Home Articles The Zakir Naik controversy and liberal hypocrisy

The Zakir Naik controversy and liberal hypocrisy

By Umair Azmi for TwoCircles.net

On Saturday, July 9, page 11 of The Indian Express was dominated by Dr. Zakir Naik. In what is arguably a representative sample of the manner in which the issue has been center staged, more than half the page was about reports related to the famous televangelist. The department of dirty tricks at news channels, led by the self-proclaimed voice of the nation have had their hands full, calling for a ban on the basis of reports that did not exist in the first place.

What do the newspaper reports say?

The statements range from the banal to the ludicrous, but have one thing in common – they make no concrete charge. Home Minister Rajnath Singh: “As far as the government is concerned, we will not compromise on terrorism at any cost.” No specifics are provided. “Peace TV” is “not conducive” to the security environment in the country and poses “security hazard”. Are there any examples of the speeches or actions that are so dangerous for the nation’s security? None that we know of. Did these alleged activities (if there are any at all) start in the recent past? Or have they been going on since the inception of the channel? If they have a long history, the citizens of this country ought to be more concerned about a government that has been dozing on a matter critical to the nation’s security.

Information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu gives us his wisdom “The only thing I could understand from the speeches he is making is that he is trying to promote radicalism, which is not good for the country.” This is a blanket assertion without any particulars. This is followed by the ridiculous “The I&B ministry is trying to get information from those countries as to what action they have taken and under what provisions” referring to the “ban” on Dr. Naik in some countries. It seems the minister does not know that India – like all other countries – has its own laws. Are not such ministers who seem to be ignorant of the provisions in the Indian legal system, who need advice from other countries on the provisions to apply a greater matter of concern?

There is one specific that is provided. Satyapal Singh, BJP MP and former police commissioner shares his bit “I have mentioned an instance where Zakir Naik coverted 12 Hindu children in Mumbai. Five among them were girls. We had also quoted more such instances in the report.” Coming from a retired police officer, one wonders whether he has no knowledge of the Indian constitution that declares the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion as a fundamental right. Or more dangerously (but unsurprisingly for a member of the ruling party) he knows but could not care less.

The “liberal” response and false equivalence

One of the question that begs to be asked is “If A claims B was an inspiration, is B responsible for the actions of A?” Also, banning an organisation has to have a legal basis, not frivolous reasons such as a minister’s likes and dislikes. But did the liberal response interrogate these questions? Hardly. What we had instead was impassioned arguments about Dr. Naik’s “regressive” views. There is no denying the legitimacy of the progressive-regressive debate, but in this context, it serves a very specific purpose – to create an environment where it becomes difficult to sympathize with a person who is wrongly targeted; to canvass support for the oppressor instead of the oppressed.

If the idea of a “ban” on a person who is not known to have indulged in violence is too much for the liberal sensibilities, the opposing of ban is still phrased in a manner as to keep the maximum negative impact intact.

Consider one of the articles opposed to the ban. The title “Why banning Islamic preacher Zakir Naik isn’t a good way to defeat his bigotry” makes it sound more like a question of strategy rather than principle. The article pays the necessary obeisance to freedom of speech and the question of law. Reference is made to the Brandenburg vs. Ohio case, one which involved the Ku Klux Klan, an organisation famous not just for its white supremacist ideology but also for its regular involvements in actual lynchings. So while brandishing his liberal credentials of standing up for free speech, even a “bigoted” one, and the author establishes the false equivalence between the KKK and Dr. Naik, against whom there is no record of violence, a difference that does not seem to matter for the author.

This false equivalence seems to be the norm. In response to the Prime Minister’s address ironically (considering the history of “child producing centres”, “kuttey ka bachcha”) warning everyone against preachers of hate, we are told that Naik is “far from the only preacher of hate in this country”. The names of Sanjeev Balyan, whose claim to fame is his alleged involvement in the Muzaffarnagar riots, and Giraraj Singh, famous for sending critics of Narendra Modi to Pakistan, are added as others “threatening the fabric of the society”. Once again, Dr. Zakir Naik, whose worst fault may be shallow arguments or a know-it-all attitude are put into the same category as ministers who are alleged riot perpetrators or people whose main concern is the control of the Muslim population in India. That it is packaged into an article ostensibly directed at the right wing forces ensures its acceptability among liberals, never mind the false equivalences.

The neighbourhood bully

Many of us may have experienced a particular type of bully in the neighbourhood, one who relishes attacking a person who is already down and out. Meet the grown-up version, retired judge of the Supreme Court, Markandey Katju. At any other time, a challenge to a debate followed by the charge of chickening out would be playing it fair and square. But to choose a time when the person is being harassed by one of the most powerful states to call for a televised debate – it is hard to reconcile that with human decency.

Manufacturing the discourse

To complete the image of the hate-preacher whom no reasonable person could support, we are told that “Muslim clerics in India unite against superstar televangelist Zakir Naik”. Though everyone has read of the opposition of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan masjid’s imam to Dr. Naik (the opposition of at least some Barelwi and Shia groups is also well known), we are told that “the most surprising condemnation comes from Darul Uloom Deoband” followed by extracts from some of the fatwas on their website. That there is an unbridgeable difference between an intellectual attack and a support for criminal action seems to be lost to the author. Why bother with facts (Darul Uloom Deoband is yet to take a stand on the hounding of Dr. Naik and has actually objected to the media’s misuse of its fatwas in this regard) when misrepresentation serves the purpose well?

The catch phrase of liberals is the cliched quote attributed to Voltaire “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” In this case, they have proven that it is just that – a (meaningless) cliche and nothing more.

A personal note of thanks

As a Muslim, I had always felt that the Indian Muslim community suffered from a sickness that was harmful both materially and morally. As opposed to the liberal forces who speak out against what they perceive as injustice in general, the Muslim community spoke out only when it involved one of their own. The same feeling haunted me during the government attack on JNU till I heard explicit words of support from elements of the conservative Muslim leadership. It led me to the realisation that it was not the lack of concern that made Muslim support to the oppression of non-Muslims invisible; it was more a problem of logistics and organisation. In this instance, a large number of (self-identifying) liberals have shown that the principles they claim to espouse are meant for selective application.

The unsophisticated Muslims, for all their faults, have proven themselves more consistent in their defence of people they disagree with (conservative ulema would surely disagree on social ideology, morality, etc. from the JNU establishment, but that did not stop them from tendering unqualified support, for whatever it was worth) than a large number of the “intellectual” liberals. For opening my eyes to this realisation, I will be forever grateful to these (pseudo?)-liberals.

The author is an engineer working in Gurgaon, Haryana.