Saba Naqvi’s Intentional Ignorance on Raza Academy

Saba Naqvi’s Intentional Ignorance on Raza Academy

In the second week of September, a fatwa(Islamic decree) was issued at the behest of Mumbai-based Islamist organisation Raza Academy against Oscar-winner Indian music director A. R. Rahman and Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi for their film, “Muhammad: Messenger of God.”

The fatwa declared Rahman and Majidi as “infidel”, adding: “It is nothing short of a crime to make a film on the Prophet [Muhammad].“Although fatwas are advisory opinions, they have come to mean “death” and carry more weight than law in the everyday lives of common Muslims.

Saeed Noori of Raza Academy demanded an apology from Rahman and others.

On September 14, senior journalist Saba Naqvi tweeted that Raza Academy was a non-entity:

“Who had heard of Raza foundation [sic] before they came up with an opinion on A. R. Rahman? This is how fringe nonentities get traction.”

Her tweet was targeted not at Raza Academy but at those who were criticising it. On the same day, 14 September, the leading commentator Swapan Dasgupta reminded Saba Naqvi through a tweet that Raza Academy is a well-known organisation and as an expert of Hindu-Muslim politics, she would know of it. His tweet reads:

“It is sad that as an ‘expert’ on communal politics you haven’t heard of Raza Foundation…”

Raza Foundation is the same as Raza Academy, the last being the official name. Some words in the tweets of Saba Naqvi and Swapan Dasgupta are standardised here for clarity.

In India, a generation of journalists have been trained in the Amartya Sen Model of Intellectual Semi-literacy, which loves to amplify an isolated statement of a fringe extremist Hindu into a national conversation while hard-core Islamists like Raza Academy that threaten the nation’s rule of law are declared non-entities.

Saba Naqvi disregarded Swapan Dasgupta’s tweet and proceeded, two days later, on 16 September, to author another tweet in which she persisted with her line of “reasoning”that Raza Academy was a non-entity. Her tweet of 16th September reads:

“The importance of non-entities like Raza foundation [is] being reinforced by right wingers on social media…”

Since Saba Naqvi deliberately persisted with her argument that Raza Academy is a non-entity, it is reasonable to expect that she was sleeping through when India’s national newspapers carried photographs and reports on their front pages in August 2012 when this Islamist group caused violence in Mumbai in which two people were killed, nearly four-dozen policemen were wounded, and media vans and public properties worth lakhs were damaged.

If we were to believe her, Saba Naqvi is also unaware that a fine of Rs 2.74 crore was imposed on Raza Academy and like-minded group Madinatul Uloom Foundation for damage to public property. The fine came up before the High Court and was widely reported by newspapers.

Someone said that ignorance is bliss, but pretending to be ignorant can be murderous. There are three possibilities of Saba Naqvi’s line of argument.

One, she is genuinely not reading the country’s newspapers. Two, honesty is no longer a creed of Indian journalism.Three, liberalism prevents her from seeing realities on the ground.

In the current weather pattern, liberalism is the colour opposite of saffron – that is, for the time being.Most probably, it is the third argument that holds true for Saba Naqvi. George Orwell, speaking of liberal journalists, wrote in the Preface to his Animal Farm:

“One cannot expect intelligent criticism or even, in many cases, plain honesty from liberal writers and journalists who are under no direct pressure to falsify their own opinions.”

The violence of August 2012 is not an exception.

Saeed Noori and other leaders of Raza Academy have decided to use the political tool of fatwa to threaten law-abiding citizens, demand apologies and make a fanatical religious points. In 2012, Saeed Noori announced a reward of Rs. 1 lakh for anyone who attacked Salman Rushdie with a slipper during his visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival.

The reference to “slipper” was a hint; the goal was for the Barelvi followers to kill Rushdie in Jaipur.

One does not know if Saba Naqvi, of Outlook magazine fame reads The Times of India, which in an editorialised comment on 17 January 2012 stated:

“Rushdie’s decision to not attend the Jaipur Literary Festival sends out all the wrong signals. It would appear the government failed to reassure the Indian-born author that he need have no fears about visiting the land of his birth… The result is the impression that India is a soft state which succumbs easily to pressure.”

To advance their murderous creed, Islamist groups like Raza Academy dig up the Rushdie issue several decades after his book, The Satanic Verses, was banned by the secular government of Rajiv Gandhi. Saba Naqvi claims she has not “heard” of them!

In recent years, Raza Academy has routinely organised protests and threatened fatwas against law-abiding individuals and groups. It acts as India’s self-appointed policeman out to implement what it deems fit. It organised protests against liberal Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen.

In December 2013, its leader Saeed Noori was felicitated during Urs in the town of Bareilly for getting a police case registered against Taslima Nasreen filed by Hasan Raza Khan, a Barelvi cleric.

According to a 30 December 2013 media report, Noori’s uncle Tauqeer Raza Khan, the chief of Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC), had announced a reward of Rs. 5 lakh on Taslima Nasreen’s head.

So, how insignificant really is Raza Academy?

Raza Academy, founded by Saeed Noori in 1978, belongs to the Barelvi school of Sunni Islam. The Barelvi school originated from Islamic theologian Ahmed Raza Khan (14 June 1856 – 28 October 1921). This school of clerics holds views exactly similar to the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists who attacked the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Much like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the Barelvi clerics consider Shias as infidels.

Given that Saba Naqvihas reported from northern India, she would be familiar with the Barelvi movement–of which Raza Academy is just one institution. The Barelvi-controlled institutions are present across Indian towns and villages, and in dozens of countries.The Barelvi movement is also represented by Dawat-i-Islami, whose member Malik Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, in January 2011 for advocating reforms in Islam’s blasphemy laws. Barelvi clerics including Tahir-ul-Qadri have refrained from condemning the Barelvi assassin.

In a report dated 12 August 2012, journalist Reetika Subramanian wrote that Raza Academy has set up 32 centres across India. As per Subramanian’s report, Raza Academy uses text messages, Facebook posts and emails to organise protests.

Raza Academy is just one network of numerous Barelvi institutions across the world. Since these institutions originated from the town of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and are geographically close to Saba Naqvi, she understands their growing influence in our religious and public life.

Raza Academy and its brother institutions are present in numerous countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UK, the United States, South Africa, Mauritius, Spain, Holland and others.

Perhaps Saba Naqvi is unaware of Raza Academy’s international clout but to pretend and persist that it is a non-entity in India flies in the face of evidence which Swapan Dasgupta reminded her and which she proceeded to disregard.

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Liberal-leftist writers, living in leafy apartments and travelling in air-conditioned cars, often fail to comprehend ground realities. It is relevant that Saba Naqvi is not a Sunni, which means that she can probably not grasp the vast influence Barelvi clerics have on the majority Sunni Muslims.

And since Saba Naqvi is not in the path of harm from Raza Academy-like Islamists, she finds them to be non-entities and is willing to disregard the fact that they are taking the nation’s rule of law in their own hands. The wickedness is also the idea that Islamists are acceptable in our social midst.

From her Twitter timeline, it appears Saba Naqvi was criticised for being a Shia in the wake of her recent piece on Saudi Arabia. She tweeted on 17 September: “Post [the] piece on Saudi Arabia [I am] being told I am Shia first.”

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “The human mind carefully refrains from looking into itself.” Since her last name declares loudly that she is a Shia (and this is not her fault), it becomes relevant for intellectual discussion if she is indeed criticising the Sunni Saudis because she is a Shia, or she would also criticise the Shia Iran – possibly for beheading numerous Iranians in public square, much like the ISIS beheads humans publicly. Iran has executed about 700 people this year alone.

Somewhat in this context, journalist Bret Stephens wrote recently: “Liberal democracies that fail to educate the public about the institutions, methods and values by which they are sustained put themselves at risk.”

Our youths should safeguard the Indian Republic by speaking out against extremists of all varieties. Journalists must annihilate extremist Muslim leaders with the same intellectual ease with which they butcher the “extremist” Hindus.

However, the Amartya Sen Model of Intellectual Semi-literacy requires that its members speak, rightly, from rooftops when a fringe extremist Hindu issues a statement, but support the Islamists like Raza Academy in numerous ways: by avoiding a direct comment, by ignoring them altogether, by paying lip service, by presenting them as non-entities, by going into lengthy discussions of how these groups are small and irrelevant, or to put it simply, by tolerating the mainstreaming of the so-called fringe Islamists.

Tufail Ahmad

Former BBC journalist Tufail Ahmad is the executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. Ahmad is the author of "Jihadist Threat to India – The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim." He tweets @tufailelif