The time has come to rein in fanatic religious preachers spreading hatred
With the spiralling cases of global Islamic terrorism and a wounded ISIS trying to intensify its footprint by waging a renewed radicalisation programme, Islamic preachers have come to spotlight spreading hate and inciting communal passions.
Sunday Easter terror bombings and loss of more than 200 lives in Sri Lanka last month are still fresh in public memory. The principal suspect for indoctrinating the youth of this island nation, Zahran Hashim is currently in news for having visited the Maldives not so long ago in an apparent bid to radicalise the youth there to achieve goals to strike terror. The Maldives, the Sri Lankan neighbour, remains vulnerable due to its fragile polity and a large number of ISIS sympathisers. There have been umpteen cases of Maldivian radicals going to Syria fighting alongside the ISIS fighters. Significantly, the number is on the rise.
Meanwhile, in a related development, former President of Maldives, Mohammad Nasheed, has very recently called for a thorough screening of Islamic preachers visiting vulnerable countries especially the Maldives. However, he doesn't appear certain if Zahran Hashim visited the Maldives under a pseudo name to beat the immigration records. Nevertheless, the country remains on high alert.
In this context, it will be relevant to mention here that the Maldives was visited in the past by another hate preacher and fanatic, Zakir Naik sometime in 2O10 when I coincidentally happened to be present on the island. The crowd present at his gathering was humongous and he unhesitantly spewed venom against other religions. His rhetoric was acrimonious in content and inciting hate. He was cheered repeatedly by the crowd and there were one or two 'on the spot' conversions also due to a profound and highly provocative speech by Zakir Naik.
Coincidentally, in 2012, he visited Mauritius. His visit was initially not approved by the government but it did a volte-face due to the pressure of a powerful Wahabi lobby and Naik was permitted to come and address the gullible lot leading again to a couple of instant conversions. The audience chiefly comprised fundamentalists and the spell of Zakir Naik's lecture, quoting extensively from Islamic religious texts, clearly attempted to cause a communal divide. That is the irony of the Wahabi elements trying to radicalise the region through huge sum received from Saudi Arabia plus the ISIS on a kind of sustained campaign to allure the youth towards their cause and Zakir Naik is exploiting the situation to the advantage of his cause.
Only after the terror attacks in Sri Lanka less than a month ago, the island nation banned Naik's infamous Peace TV which has been propagating radical Islam spreading hatred against other religions. Meanwhile, on May 2, a case was filed in a Mumbai court against Naik and his Peace TV owned by the Islamic Research Foundation for acrimonious propaganda aired through provocative and hate speeches.
As the Government of India is trying to tighten its noose against Zakir Naik to hasten his extradition to Malaysia, in a recent (May 10) interview to an English weekly, he dared the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to come to Malaysia and question him instead of its unending slapping of criminal cases against him. He said prior to the present regime, he had 80 per cent hopes of getting justice from the Indian judiciary but today the chances are merely 10 to 20 per cent.
In the meantime, the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) has filed a case against Naik for money laundering holding an amount worth 28 million US dollars equivalent to 21 million British pounds. He audaciously claimed in the interview that 90 per cent of Muslims who faced terror charges have been set free after 10-15 years. According to his calculations, if convicted he will be in the prison for a maximum period of ten years but that would disrupt his 'mission'. He further said he was not a fool to return to India. His hardened stance proves his gumption and confidence of receiving support from Saudi Arabia for effectively pursuing Wahabi agenda.
Zakir Naik fled to Saudi Arabia in 2016 and is now sheltered in Malaysia enjoying residency status. President Mahatir Mohammad seems to be extra kind to him by repeatedly refusing to comply with Indian requests to deport him to India to face criminal charges. This attitude is incompatible to Mahathir's stature and that is a sad reflection on his stand to fight global terror. He was felicitated in Pakistan recently on its National Day. He seems to be drifting from his earlier policy of being friendly to India.
Under these circumstances, India needs to reassert its robust diplomacy once again as it recently demonstrated in prevailing over China in designating Masood Azhar a global terrorist. Similar efforts and taking other anti-terror allies on board, it would be possible to create a congenial public opinion against Naik eventually securing his deportation. Unless the hate preachers are reined in, seeds of Wahabism will continue to germinate, giving a boost to pro-terror forces striking at their will as seen in Sri Lanka and raise possibilities of strikes at other places including the Maldives.
Zakir Naik's credentials are now at an all-time low with Shias and Sufis nurture extreme hate against him. Many western countries including the US, the UK, and Canada have banned Naik's entry in these countries. Naik is already a pariah in Bangladesh where he was responsible for inspiring a number of youth leading to bombings at a cafe in July 2016. Naik's activities must be exposed for the people to know of the negativities, hatred, and intolerance he promotes. It is time there is a vocal anti-Naik lobby all over the world to isolate him and ultimately hold him to account. Once he is put on trial, that step should be deterrent to his adherents and the Wahabis, currently engaged in dividing society along communal lines.
(The author is a security analyst and the former National Security Advisor to Prime Minister of Mauritius. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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