(HOUSTON, TX – 5/4/2022) – The Houston chapter and national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today rejected an attempt to intimidate and silence a Muslim journalist with Al Jazeera who came under attack after he criticized a call for genocidal violence against Kashmiri Muslims.
Last month, Dr. Rajiv Pandit–a board member with the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), an American group with alleged links to India’s far-right, anti-Muslim “Hindutva” movement–posted a tweet in which he appeared to endorse a call for genocidal violence against Kashmiri Muslims in response to the anti-Muslim propaganda film, “The Kashmir Files.” In response to the tweet, Al-Jazeera journalist Raqib Naik made a post critical of Pandit’s remark.
Pandit’s Texas-based law firm later sent a legal demand letter to the journalist, threatening to sue him for defamation unless he deleted and retracted his critical remarks. Anti-Muslim extremists on social media who support India’s RSS movement also targeted Naik online.
CAIR-Houston board chairman John Floyd agreed to represent Naik with advocacy assistance from CAIR National. In a letter sent to Pandit’s law firm, CAIR wholly rejected his demands and defended the journalist from false claims.
The letter reads, in part: “Mr. Naik entirely rejects Dr. Pandit’s baseless demands, as well as his transparent attempt to intimidate and silence a journalist for telling the truth. Mr. Naik will not delete his posts or retract his statements about Dr. Pandit’s dangerous remark. As detailed in this letter, the opinions Mr. Naik expressed were measured, reasonable, and, most importantly, accurate.”
In a statement, CAIR-Houston Board Chair John Floyd said:
“Freedom of the press is vital in exposing civil rights abuses here and abroad. In shining light on important issues, reporters have long been considered the ‘fourth pillar of democracy.’ The civil rights abuses and growing calls for violence against Muslims in India and the creation of a brutal militarized state in Kashmir by the nationalistic government of India’s prime minister Modi demand widespread exposure and condemnation.
“Shining light on the growing influence of this movement in American politics is also crucial in educating our elected officials and holding them accountable. These issues require more, not less reporting, and protecting reporters like Mr. Naik is an integral part of the critical work at CAIR Texas-Houston.”
In a statement, CAIR National Senior Researcher Huzaifa Shahbaz said:
“No amount of legal intimidation can prevent journalists, academics, and activists from reporting on the growing threat of Hindutva extremism in India and its influences here in the United States. In the face of growing violence toward Muslims and other religious minorities in India, it is more important than ever that we stand with journalists like Mr. Naik who expose the growing threat of genocide in India and Kashmir.”
The Kashmir Files is a Bollywood drama film that has been widely criticized as factually inaccurate, far-right propaganda meant to justify the ongoing occupation and oppression of Kashmiri Muslims.
An article in Time magazine noted: “…Muslims are portrayed as uniformly evil, treacherous and predatory. Even little Muslim boys are shown as demonic. Hindu women are depicted as being coveted by lascivious Muslim men. The latter is a particularly resonant trope employed by the BJP and goes by the term “love jihad”—a supposed Islamist conspiracy to impregnate Hindu women with the end of numerically overtaking Hindus. (In fact, Muslims make up just 14% of India’s population.)”
The film has been championed by anti-Muslim supporters of far-right “Hindutva” nationalist extremism in India, particularly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement. The RSS is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization that was inspired by Nazi Germany and now effectively controls the Indian government under Narendra Modi.
According to the Bridge Initiative, “In recent years, the RSS has been at the forefront of promoting Hindutva nationalism in India, with the Sangh accused of inciting violence against India’s Dalit-Bahujan community, including hate crimes against Muslims, lynchings of Dalits, and pogroms against religious minorities…
The RSS has also been linked to white supremacist organizations and individuals in Europe and North America. In 2011, Anders Breivik— the Norwegian mass murderer— hailed India’s Hindutva nationalist movement as a “key ally in a global struggle to bring down democratic regimes across the world,” listing the websites of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the National Volunteers’ Organization, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as resources.”
The RSS also allegedly has links to advocacy groups in the United States, including the Hindu-American Foundation (HAF) where Dr. Pandit serves as a board member.”
Also, according to Georgetown University Bridge Initiative, HAF co-founder Mihir Meghani “is a long-time member of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and has spoken at conferences organized by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the international religious branch of the RSS.”
This article first appeared on cair.com