The US-based advocacy group has challenged the magazine to ‘provide a single piece of evidence’ in support of the allegation that IAMC was connected with SIMI, a banned organisation in India.
WASHINGTON DC — The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, on Thursday issued a detailed rebuttal to an Islamophobic article published in Newsweek in December and asked the newsmagazine to publish the rebuttal immediately.
The defamatory piece, titled “COVID Relief Funds Went to Violent Extremists” and published by Newsweek website on December 7, 2020, had alleged that IAMC was connected with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an organisation that the Indian Government has banned.
“It is disappointing that Newsweek, once one of America’s best news organisations, chose to publish an allegation of terrorism against us without first reaching out to us for comment,” Mr. Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director, IAMC, wrote to Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Nancy Cooper. “Providing the opportunity to respond to an allegation — especially one so grave as to accuse an organisation of being linked with terrorism — is a fundamental principle of journalism, something that Newsweek has clearly failed to uphold in this case.”
Mr Ahmed reminded Ms Cooper that she had herself sought the same privilege in response to a piece that Columbia Journalism Review published against Newsweek. “Your failure to provide us that opportunity is especially hypocritical considering that you demanded a similar opportunity when Daniel Tovrov published a detailed report against Newsweek in Columbia Journalism Review in October 2019,” Mr. Ahmed wrote.
“If you deserve an opportunity to set the record straight on allegations against you, so do we on allegations against us.”
Mr Ahmed added that it was “truly ironic” that while Newsweek’s article criticised IAMC for receiving Covid relief stimulus worth $1,000, Newsweek itself had faced heat for receiving a whopping $350,000 of the same relief, in violation of the stimulus provisions.
Mr Ahmed said that the allegations against IAMC contained in the Newsweek article, authored by Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum, an Islamophobic organisation that has been repeatedly called out by the Southern Poverty Law Center, were false.
“We challenge you to provide a single piece of evidence in support” of the allegation that IAMC was connected with SIMI, Mr Ahmed wrote. He added that the claim was based entirely on a report from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a US-based organisation that is “as Islamophobic” as the MEF.
The HAF is tied to the RSS, the Hindu supremacist organisation to which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political party belong. It has continued to support Modi despite his government’s “massive persecution of its non-Hindu minorities,” Mr Ahmed wrote.
Mr Ahmed pointed out that the cofounders of HAF were former executive council members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of American (VHPA) which is allied with the Indian Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) that has been classified by the Central Intelligence Agency as a “religious militant” organisation.
“The VHP has also been denounced by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for orchestrating mass violence against India’s Christians and Muslims. In a report on violence against women in India, Amnesty wrote that “calls to rape Muslim girls and women were contained in pamphlets produced by the VHP and the RSS and distributed in Ahmedabad months before the violence was started in 2002. The International General Secretary of VHP called for a new law that would behead anyone attempting to convert a Hindu,” Mr Ahmed wrote.
The only claim that HAF report made was that IAMC had hosted Mohammad Siddiqi, SIMI’s founder. But after founding SIMI in 1977 Dr Siddiqi left it in 1980, 21 years before the Indian Government banned it, and migrated to the US becoming a US citizen and retiring in 2015 after 28 years as a tenured Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at the Western Illinois University.
“Not once in the 44 years since SIMI was founded in 1977, or in the nearly two decades since SIMI was banned in 2001, has any law enforcement agency or prosecution, either in the US or in India, named Dr Siddiqi as an accused or as a person of interest,” Mr Ahmed wrote. “Dr Siddiqi’s name has not featured as an accused or as being connected, even indirectly, to SIMI in the court filings India’s Government has submitted for each of the eight times it has banned SIMI, the last in 2019.”
In fact, Dr Siddiqi had never been accused by police in any part of India of any crime. As a US citizen of Indian origin, he had travelled to India multiple times to meet with his extended family, including after SIMI’s ban in 2001, but not once did Indian law enforcement agencies question him.
“Not only did Dr Siddiqi have nothing to do with SIMI, he criticised it for its turn to extremism. In an interview headlined “The SIMI I founded was completely different” published by Rediff, a leading Indian news website, in 2003, Dr Siddiqi said he believed that SIMI had been “hijacked by elements in other countries and other Muslim societies” and that “some of them at least have become misguided and radical in their beliefs.”
Mr Westrop’s article also accused IAMC of being an Islamist organisation. But Mr Ahmed wrote that “IAMC is as Islamist as Christian Science Monitor is Christian.”
“In fact, IAMC does not even engage in the propagation of Islam or Islamic theology. In nearly 19 years of its existence, IAMC has consistently worked for human rights, civil and political liberties, and religious freedom. Moreover, it has explicitly and repeatedly condemned violence perpetrated in the name of Islam,” Mr Ahmed wrote.