- Indians’ own extremists are going too far for Arabs
The world is desperately engaged in combating the global pandemic of covid-19 but India, instead of focusing its efforts on saving its people from the dreaded virus, is hurling slander, accusing them of a ‘conspiracy’ to spread coronavirus. This despicable act by India has raised serious concerns amidst the Gulf countries and OIC. It is heartening that two members of two different royal families have verbally lashed out against India.
Qatar based international TV channel Aljazeera, in its hard hitting opinion piece titled ‘Why Arabs are speaking out against Islamophobia in India’ reports that in the past couple of weeks, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Kuwait government, a royal princess of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as a number of Arab activists, have called out Islamophobic hate speech by Indians seen to be accusing the country’s Muslims of spreading the novel coronavirus.
Her Highness Mona bint Fahd al Said, an Omani princess, has boldly tweeted: “Oman stands with its Muslim brothers and sisters in India. If the Indian government doesn’t stop the persecution of Muslims, then one million (Indian) workers working in Oman may be expelled. I will definitely take up this issue with the Sultan of Oman.”
Pakistani President Arif Alvi thanked the Omani government and Royal family in a TV talk show, quoting the tweets by the Omani princess. India tried to spin-doctor the powerful statement by the Omani princess, claiming that the tweet was fake, but subsequent investigations prove its veracity. It is recommended that the higher echelons in Pakistan’s political hierarchy verify social media messages before quoting them on the electronic media in this age of fake news. Luckily this particular message by the Omani Princess turned out to be true.
It is no coincidence that Princess Hend al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, also warned “openly racist and discriminatory” Indians in the Gulf that they “will be fined and made to leave” the country. According to Aljazeera, Princess al-Qassimi, who has emerged as one of the most prolific Arab voices against Islamophobia in India, last week wrote a column for Gulf News, in which she said: “The world doesn’t need another Hitler, but it needs another hero like Martin Luther, Nelson Mandela, or Gandhi. Killing your brethren doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a dictator and murderer. A snowballing movement has been started, which has reverberated across the Arab world,” she wrote in her piece, titled ‘I pray for an India without hate and Islamophobia’.
India will have to control its loose cannons indulging in Islamophobia. It may remain oblivious to Pakistan’s concerns regarding the targeting of Indian Muslims, but it cannot ignore the loud and clear condemnation by the GCC states and the OIC
The anger and angst of the GCC members became visible when right-wing Hindus accusing Muslims of a “conspiracy” to spread the coronavirus after dozens of cases were linked to a congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary movement, at its headquarters in New Delhi, in the middle of March.
Hashtags such as #CoronaJihad trended for days on Twitter and panelists in TV debates called them “human bombs”, while many called for a ban on the Jamaat. Its New Delhi office has been sealed. On April 19, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said more than 4000 of the nearly 15,000 cases detected until that day were linked to the Jamaat, whose chief Mullah Saad Kandhalvi was charged with “culpable homicide” and money laundering and is likely to be arrested.
Following the Jamaat issue, a wave of Islamophobic posts was unleashed on social media by the propounders of Hindutva, some of them employed in Gulf countries. Dubai-based Indian, Saurabh Upadhyay, asked Muslims to “accept they were the source of the pandemic” and called for the death of Jamaat members, describing them as “terrorists”.
“The level of hubris of the Hindutva fascists shocked people throughout the world, changing previously held opinions,” Dr Farhan Mujahid Chak, who teaches political science in the Gulf Studies programme at Qatar University, told Al-Jazeera.
It is noteworthy that in the past month, at least six Hindus working in the Gulf region have lost their jobs or have been charged for their social media posts. About 8.5 million Indians live and work in Gulf countries, a significant number of them Hindus.
India is rocking the boat with its extremist Hindutva mentality and jeopardizing its $100 billion trade with the GCC countries. “Every year, more than $55 billion are transferred to India from the Gulf countries, and more than $120 billion annually from all Muslim countries. Indians (mostly Hindus) are treated well in these countries,” Kuwait-based activist Abdur Rahman Nassar tweeted.
“In return, how are Muslims treated in India?” he asked.
Another Kuwaiti national, lawyer and director of International Human Rights group, Mejbel al-Sharika, tweeted that he will “adopt the cause of Muslims in India” at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva “for free”.
On April 20, in what was a clear sign of the issue escalating in the Arab world, Kuwait expressed its “deep concern” over the treatment of India’s Muslims and asked the OIC to intervene.
“Did those who commit crimes against humanity against Muslims in India and violate their rights think that Muslims in the world will remain silent about these crimes and do not move politically, legally and economically against them?” a statement by the general secretariat of the Kuwait Council of Ministers said.
Earlier, on April 18, the OIC had issued a statement, urging India to take urgent steps to “stop the growing tide of Islamophobia” in the country.
A day after the OIC statement, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Covid-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.”
Sultan Barakat, Drector of the Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at Qatar’s Doha Institute, told Al-Jazeera that people in the Gulf countries “felt outraged” over the way Indian Muslims were being blamed for the coronavirus pandemic. “Such stupid assertions angered people here, not only because it is Islamophobic but more importantly, because it is counterproductive to a global pandemic that is blind to religion and recognizes no borders,” he said.
“Millions of Indians have been living in Arab countries for decades with hardly any discrimination against Indians─ Hindu, Muslim or any other. Such Islamophobic comments are particularly hurtful when originating from individuals who have lived and worked in the Gulf.”
India’s former ambassador to the UAE, Talmiz Ahmed, called the Indians who posted comments against the Arabs and Muslims in India “extremely foolish individuals with very limited knowledge of politics or international affairs”.
Simultaneously, on 30 April, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom dropped a bomb when its 2020 report urged the State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concern” over “severe violations” of religious freedom. Although India rejected the US report, calling it “biased”, it will be hard for the country’s Hindu nationalist government to ignore a growing global concern over the targeting of India’s Muslims.
In a concerted effort in damage control, Indian media is propagating that a foreign security agency is behind the growing trend of spoiling India’s image in the Gulf countries. India will have to control its loose cannons indulging in Islamophobia. It may remain oblivious to Pakistan’s concerns regarding the targeting of Indian Muslims, but it cannot ignore the loud and clear condemnation by the GCC states and the OIC.