Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists wave an Indian national flag and shout pro-Indian slogans during a demonstration in Srinagar on Monday. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 October 2020

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.


Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin

Updated 01 December 2020

Experts analyze survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin

  • VIrtual debate organized by French-language edition of Arab News in partnership with the Arab World Institute in Paris
  • Findings of Arab News-commissioned survey that took the pulse of French people of Arab origin analyzed in debate

DUBAI: When emotions run high, visions tend to be scattered and opinions end up being mistaken for facts. This is why Arab News has been partnering with the leading polling agency YouGov to produce solid research-based reports on the region. As part of the same initiative, its French language digital edition, Arab News en Francais, recently commissioned a far-reaching study on the perceptions of French people of Arab origin on life in France.
The findings of the survey were the subject of a virtual panel discussion on Monday featuring leading experts, academics, decision-makers and diplomats. The event, organized by Arab News and its French-language digital edition Arab News en Francais in partnership with the Arab World Institute (AWI) in Paris, tackled a number of thorny issues under the rubric of “Integration in France: Perception problem or systemic crisis?” In his keynote speech, Jack Lang, the IMA president, described the Arab News en Francais-YouGov poll as an “excellent” initiative. “I just want to convey my intimate feeling. I think France is a country that has succeeded in interweaving cultures and civilizations. What makes France a strong country is that it is, to borrow Nelson Mandela’s phrase, a ‘rainbow nation’.
“Now we are talking about the integration of Arab citizens. But after the Second World War, we were talking about the integration of Italian workers,” Lang said. He said the designer Riad Sattouf’s description of France as “a masterpiece” is “true” because “France is a symbol of strength. It is also true that there is discrimination against citizens of Arab origins.

The discrimination is more social than cultural, but we must continue to fight it.” In a special welcome address, Ludovic Pouille, the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia, also thanked Arab News en Francais for the study on French citizens of Arab origin and the virtual debate. “Unfortunately, we are living in times of great violence” he said, saying that “the whole world” is affected by terrorism.
“Beyond this terrorist threat, we are also victims of hatred via social networks. We must fight terrorism in all its forms and the hatred it produces.” Pouille added: “It should be remembered that France has deep respect for Islam. Islam is the second religion in France and all French Muslims benefit from a protective framework such as there is for all religious denominations, and we remain vigilant against hate speech and racism.” He reiterated a point he made in an exclusive commentary for Arab News en Francais on Monday: “France would not be France without Arab and Muslim contribution.” Senator Nathalie Goulet expressed concern over the situation in France. She recalled that as part of her duties, in 2014 she had requested “investigation into jihadist networks.” This led to “the financing of Islam in France and the report submitted to the senate was passed unanimously.” Responding to the remarks of Lang, Goulet, who represents the department of Orne, said: “I listened to Jack Lang. I think we don’t live in the same country.
The situation is not good. You cannot talk of integration of people born in France and having an immigrant background. French Muslims are French.” In his comments, Dr. Ghaleb Bencheikh, a Franco-Algerian Islamologist and president of the Fondation de l’Islam de France (FIF), said the concept of a supranational identity has “become some kind of a refuge.” According to him, the ideology of the majority triumphs to the detriment of all the other minorities combined. Pointing to the prominence of social networks, he said these offer a wide audience to demagogues whose remarks negatively influence public opinion and lead to the stigmatization of a segment of the population.
“Some people talk about republican secularism. I find this to be nonsense. Indeed, secularism is not a value; it is a legal principle,” Bencheikh said.
Dr. Myriam Francois, who has done her PhD in Islamic political movements in Morocco from the University of Oxford, felt the French government is not fully playing its role in society. “Many groups are simply neglected by the government. Yet, in theory, everyone has the same right to upward social mobility,” she said.
She contended that since the French people are a revolutionary people, it is therefore “normal for them to turn against the government if it does not fully grant them their rights.” This, she said, explains in part the resurgence of violence.

Francois said discrimination exists at all levels of French society, adding: “We tend to Islamize social issues. Muslims are one of these marginalized groups, but are far from the only ones.” She continued: “The problem lies in the rejection of the ‘other.’ Today, we need a republic that represents the entire French population, such as it is today. We must campaign to give everyone their place. It’s not just up to white men to give their opinion.” Francois’ views were seconded by Dr. Melyssa Haffaf, program director at Georgetown University. “Discrimination is the heart of the problem,” she said. “It is above all social and economic discrimination that provokes violence and hateful reactions in France.” Haffaf said there is evidence to show that it is often non-Muslims who speak out about the place of religion. “However, their vision can be influenced by political ideologies and distorted by stereotypes. We should therefore give the floor more often to those directly affected by this issue, and give Islam (as well as other cultural minorities) the place they deserve within the country.” Whatever the differences of opinions among the panelists, all agreed that the state ought to play a more prominent role in the integration of Arabs in France.
Haffaf said: “The republic is an entity made up of elected men and women who must be more honest with respect to the different communities that have shaped the country over the centuries to get to today’s France.” She contended that the Enlightenment was not unique to Europe. “Islam has also proved itself,” she said. “Its history must be introduced to young people through education. Diversity cannot be an opinion; it must be a fact.” For his part, Bencheikh said that to fill the void where the state is absent, the FIF, through its mobile university, will promote debate, dispel doubts, allay concerns and speak with citizens.
While agreeing with the general consensus on the topic, Francois said the French government should also rethink its actions to avoid “creating social trauma.” “How do you put up with a policeman going to ‘harass’ a woman by the beach only because she is dressed in a certain way?” she said. “We cannot tolerate this. We must recognize the place of all citizens.” In conclusion, Goulet said that while “not everything is perfect, all is not dismal either.” Recovering the lost “elements of the republic’s spaces” is a long process, she said, but “it is indeed necessary to hold politicians more accountable, and to put republican principles at the heart of education.” Summing up her arguments, she said: “We must stop seeing Islam as a religion foreign to France. This creates a counterproductive divide. Real change should start with addressing this misconception.”