Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
There is no dearth of hate-mongers in our world. They are all bent on dividing the masses to achieve their own individual goals and they come in many kinds – political, cultural, ethnic, linguistic etc. But probably the most dangerous hate-mongers are the religious ones. Unlike the political ones who are accountable to the electorate and the media, the religious fundamentalists who preach hate and division hold themselves accountable to their personal god/s and their own interpretations of their holy texts. These religious hate-mongers have existed since the dawn of civilization and have wrecked havoc on every demographic and State. Even today, in spite of secularism and irreligion being on the rise, we have one too many religious fanatics working against the tide of human progress.
Zakir Naik is one such religious supremacist. Born in Mumbai in 1965, Naik is an Islamic preacher described as one of the leading figures of the Salafi movement – an ultra-conservative reform movement within Sunni Islam. Through his Dubai-based Peace TV channel, Naik’s lectures reach 100 million viewers around the world. He is widely popular in orthodox circles – and widely controversial elsewhere.
As is the case with almost all ultra-conservative religious leaders, Naik has almost always been in the news for the wrong reasons. His brand of Quranic literalism, anti-pluralism and puritan Wahhabism has made him one of the most notorious religious preachers today.
Naik has time and again stressed that the Quran accurately describes many scientific phenomena (all the while calling biological evolution “unproven conjecture” which scientists support just because it goes “against the Bible”).
It is easy to see how Naik can be a nightmare for feminists and secularists – or anybody capable of even a little rational thinking. And it is not difficult to see how he can easily prey upon the uneducated and ill-informed. Naik is an influential televangelist because of his sheer excellence at manipulating facts, igniting discord, courting controversy and embracing sensationalism.
He is famed for his knowledge of the Quran and even other religious texts, often quoting verses from the holy texts by heart. But when it comes to making rational arguments, one needs more than religious knowledge. One also needs unbiased evidence and a great deal of logic. Any neutral observer of Naik can easily conclude that he lacks both of them.
In the aftermath of the recent terror attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it came to light that some of the terrorists were inspired by Naik’s ideologies. This was not particularly surprising given the high popularity of Naik’s Peace TV in Bangladesh. Following the revelation, there have been repeated calls to take action against Naik’s hate speeches (and let’s not mince words here – his speeches qualify as hate speech). The Union MoS for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has said that “Zakir Naik’s speech is a matter of concern for us. Our agencies are working on this.”
Naik is already banned from making speeches in the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada. UK Home Secretary Theresa May (who is predicted to become Prime Minister later this year) said the following on denying Naik entry into the UK: “Numerous comments made by Dr. Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behaviour.” Naik’s lawyer called May’s decision “barbaric and inhuman”, citing the ban as an attack on free speech.
And therein lays the catch: The sane and unbiased among us will not think twice before condemning Naik’s extremist views. But should an individual be banned from a country for making controversial statements? How free should free speech be? Should deviant and divisive ideologies be protected or prosecuted in modern, secular democracies? It all boils down to the eternal debate: How free should free speech be?
There are those among us who want Naik to be penalized for his hate-mongering. There are those among us who despise Naik’s views but do not want him to be prosecuted because that would nullify the status of free speech in our society. Then there are those among us who continue to be blinded by the divisiveness of Naik and others like him, and rebuke any attempt to demonize him. Which side of the aisle is right – that is a question that will be answered by our personal biases and individual introspection and research. But it is the firm view of The Logical Indian that, no matter your politics, no matter your beliefs, there can be no doubt that Naik and others like him are anathema to Indian democracy and modern civilization.
He is a bully who thrives on misinformation and sectarianism
Zakir Naik is neither a representative of Indian Muslims nor a personification of Indian secularism. He is a bully who thrives on misinformation and sectarianism, and represents everything that is wrong with blind religiosity. He is an able manipulator and a serial liar whose popularity relies heavily on his recitation of the holy texts and their own hapless unintelligence. Kushwanth Singh aptly said that Naik’s audiences “listen to him with rapt attention and often explode in enthusiastic applause when he rubbishes other religious texts.” Naik is an expert in the politics of division.
Which is why we need to actively rebuke Naik and other personalities like him. Zakir Naik, Yogi Adityanath, Sakshi Maharaj – they are all part of the ilk who work hard to create discord and initiate conflict. Whatever the term “anti-national” may mean, these individuals certainly qualify to be termed as “anti-nationals”. They are threats to our democracy and to our future as a stable nation. Whether hate speech should be banned – or whether hate speech should be punished – is a matter of crucial debate. What is not a matter of debate is that agents of division like Zakir Naik should be rebuked and condemned by Indians from all walks of life.
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