Saturday, July 9, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 9, 2016

Televangelists and radicalisation The Maharashtra government in India has initiated an inquiry into the possible inspiration provided to the terrorists who slaughtered 20 hostages, most of them foreigners, in Dhaka recently, by the speeches of televangelist Zakir Nair. Bangladesh has revealed that at least two of the terrorists cited Dr Naik in their posts on social media before the attack. The good doctor has defended himself by arguing that 90 percent of people in Bangladesh know him and 50 percent are his fans, but every fan may not follow everything he says. He alleges that his speeches are often doctored, thereby distorting his comments. He therefore rejects the accusation that he may have inspired the Dhaka or any other terrorist attack. This is, to put it mildly, a strange defence. Dr Naik has an Islamic Research Foundation in Mumbai, purportedly to present ‘true’ Islam, and a satellite TV channel Peace TV, on which he is constantly seen. Peace TV is banned in India but aired nevertheless by some cable operators. While Saudi Arabia highly praises him and has even bestowed awards on him, he is reportedly banned from entering the UK and Canada. It is alleged that his views offer a defence of Osama bin Laden. One difficulty for India is that Saudi Arabian support for Naik becomes a delicate matter since India has of late been wooing the kingdom (and other Gulf countries). The issue is also entangled with Indian domestic politics, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticising the opposition Congress Party’s senior leader Digvijaya Singh for sharing hugs and the stage with Dr Naik at an event to promote communal harmony where he praised Naik. Hindu preacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also whaled into Naik for quoting the Vedas out of context during a public discussion with him on Hinduism and Islam. Meanwhile Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, castigating Naik’s speeches as “highly objectionable”, has said the home ministry will take appropriate action after studying the speeches. Whether one goes along with the emerging accusations against Naik of inspiring terrorist attacks through his speeches, the radicalisation of Muslim youth all over the world, not just in Muslim countries, is a phenomenon with wider dimensions than just one televangelist’s influence. On the one hand, received wisdom until recently was that poverty and deprivation provide the fertile soil for terrorist recruitment. While there is truth in that perception, evidence is mounting (including in the Dhaka attack) that youth from well off backgrounds and the best education are not impervious to radicalisation along extremist and terrorist lines. Apart from televangelists like Zakir Naik, the internet and social media have provided terrorist recruiters with a rich source of cannon fodder whose mindset has been altered through propaganda. The central theme of these messages is that the historical wrongs against Muslims (e.g. Palestine, Kashmir, etc.) and the collaborative structures in Muslim societies that serve the interests of the west dictate war against western interests and their satraps in the Muslim world. Added to this poisonous brew is the sectarian notion of declaring it justified to attack and kill members of all Muslim sects differing from their strict, literalist, distorted interpretation of Islam. The rash of terrorist attacks in Ramzan and around Eid in Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia invokes in some quarters the spurious argument that ‘no Muslim could do this’. This mistaken notion that leads to the conspiracy theory that forces inimical to Islam are behind such actions needs to be laid to rest once and for all. It must be recognised by now that the perpetrators of such massacres (mostly, it must be said, of Muslims) are very much from within the Muslim fold, albeit so far down the deviant path as to be justifiably seen as outside the pale of Islam. While the Muslim world must tackle the roots of terrorism by addressing widespread poverty and deprivation in its societies through inclusive democratic systems that can wean youth away from atavistic, irrational, ‘other world’ solutions, the appeal of the extremists to educated and well off youth also needs to be tackled by a narrative that places centre-stage the message of peace of Islam and the broader enlightened humanitarian view of shunning and overcoming the barbaric aberration that the terrorists’ version of Islam has evolved into, arguably fuelled indirectly if not directly by seemingly ‘moderate’ preachers such as Naik.

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