Zakir Naik skillfully converted what was supposed to be a hard-hitting press conference to one of his routine debates with people of various age groups belonging to multiple religions, on Friday. Except that it wasn’t at a maidan to accommodate thousands of curious enchanted listeners, but a small hall that can hardly accommodate 45 people; rest of the script was more or less the same. Naik seemed to address a group of ‘non-believers’ and not journalists, who questioned his ideology. Naik often addressed the reporters as ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ and replied with his typical responses that explained everything but answered nothing.
Let’s be clear. Naik didn’t say anything new at the 'Skype conference', on Friday, different from what he has been preaching for the last 25 years. But, Naik’s fundamental script remains the same. Except defending the core ideas of what he has been preaching — the religious supremacy of Islam and justifying suicide bombing in the name of Islam in a war — Naik didn’t seem to have any remorse to the possibility that his speeches could have inspired IS terrorists in Dhaka and Hyderabad (the basic allegations against him that brought him trouble in the recent days) and took innocent lives. Nor did he seem to be perturbed with the widespread rage against him in India, including in his own community.
Naik continues to maintain that his online video clips, where he allegedly preaches violence, are doctored and that the media is continuing to manipulate his statements to accuse him for advocating terrorism. “This is misinformation that I have advocated people to kill. I am a messenger of peace," Naik said. This is what makes Naik even more dangerous, but as Firstpost has noted before, this makes it hard to tackle him by law.
What is even more dangerous is that Naik is trying hard to mobilise support from his own community, something he currently lacks, saying he is being targeted because he is running an Islamic channel, which is an argument that lacks sense. India has television channels from all communities and religions. There isn’t any discrimination and no channel has been banned without a strong reason. "There is a media trial against me in India. Media has twisted my statements and presented it out of context," Naik added. Naik also attacked the Union government for banning his Peace TV, which Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said is disturbing the country’s peace and communal harmony.
Often, Naik was heard challenging journalists to prove that he has advocated terrorism in his speeches and or that he hasn’t condemned the terrorist attacks. If one sits down to examine his videos, Naik will be ultimately proved right. Naik’s strategy has always been putting across his ideas of religious supremacy and ‘war against the enemy of Islam’ to his ‘fans’ by wording his speeches carefully, so that he wouldn’t get into trouble. This is precisely the reason why there is no strong case against Naik.
To understand this part, take a look at one his videos where Naik endorses Osama Bin Laden and Taliban as fighters of Islam and argue why Taliban and Bin Laden are not necessarily damaging Islam. In one his videos, Naik says:
"If he (Osama Bin Laden) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I’m for him. I don’t now what he is doing. I’m not in touch with him. I don’t know him personally. I read newspapers. If he is terrorising America, the terrorist, biggest terrorist, I’m with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorising the terrorist, he is following Islam. Whether he is or not, I don’t know. Now don’t go around outside saying Zakir Naik is for Osama Bin Laden. If he is terrorising the terrorist I’m with him. I don’t know what he is. I cannot base my judgment only on news. But, you as Muslims, without checking up laying allegations is also wrong. I’m with those people who are holding the Quran. Even the full world is against them, I’m with them (sic)"
On a closer look here, Naik offers his allegiance to one of the world’s biggest terrorist groups in their 'fight' against Islam’s enemies, but his speech is full of caveats. Clearly, Naik is unlike Hafiz Saeed or Anwar al-Awlaki, who does not mince words to advocate terrorism without caveats. “I deliver the message to you. Whether you follow the message or not, that is your problem,” tells Naik to the teenager, who is visibly impressed with Naik’s eloquence.
Naik is a preacher of anything other than ‘peace’. The very fact that Zakir Naik refuses to return to the country and face the law of the land (if, as he says, the charges against him are false), indicates cowardice and tactfulness. What makes action against radical preachers of religious fundamentalism, be it in any religion, difficult and dangerous, is that they tend to associate any such attempts to the religion and the community. If they succeed in doing that, it’s a much bigger problem. That is, precisely, the risk involved in acting against Zakir Naik too.