Letter Requesting NewsWeek to publish rebuttal to false allegation against IAMC | IAMC

Letter Requesting NewsWeek to publish rebuttal to false allegation against IAMC

To

Ms. Nancy Cooper

Global Editor-in-Chief

Newsweek

Subject: Requesting Newsweek to publish rebuttal to false allegation against Indian American Muslim Council

Dear Ms. Cooper,

Greetings.

This is my third letter to you since last December in reference to an online piece headlined “COVID Relief Funds Went to Violent Extremists” published on your website on December 7, 2020 at 6:30 AM EST (https://www.newsweek.com/covid-relief-funds-went-violent-extremists-opinion-1552485).

Since you have chosen not to remove the above “Opinion” article from your website as I had urged in my previous two letters, I now ask you to publish this rejoinder from me on your website, giving it the same prominence as was given to the above-mentioned piece. In addition, I reiterate our demand that you withdraw the defamatory article by Mr. Westrop immediately.

It is disappointing that Newsweek, once one of America’s best news organizations, chose to publish an allegation of terrorism against us without first reaching out to us for comment. Providing the opportunity to respond to an allegation — especially one so grave as to accuse an organization of being linked with terrorism — is a fundamental principle of journalism, something that Newsweek has clearly failed to uphold in this case.

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. If you deserve an opportunity to set the record straight on allegations against you, so do we on allegations against us.

What is truly ironic is that you have published an article about IAMC getting Covid relief stimulus worth $1,000, whereas Newsweek itself has faced heat for receiving a whopping $350,000, in violation of the stimulus provisions.

Both my previous letters to you explained that the allegation in Mr. Sam Westrop’s “opinion” article that IAMC has “alleged ties with SIMI”, a banned terrorist organization in India, is patently false and baseless. We challenge you to provide a single piece of evidence in support of that allegation, or even to prove that IAMC is an Islamist organization, another allegation from Mr. Westrop.

Following my first letter, you added a hyperlink to the word “alleged” before the words “ties to SIMI,” linking a report from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a US-based organization that is as Islamophobic as is Mr. Westrop’s Middle East Forum. The HAF is tied to the RSS, the Hindu supremacist organization to which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political party belong.

The HAF has continued to support Prime Minister Modi despite his government’s massive persecution of its non-Hindu minorities, including 200 million Muslims and over 30 million Christians. The cofounders of HAF were former executive council members of the American branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), which has been classified by the Central Intelligence Agency as a “religious militant” organization.

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 agaisnt 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 started in 2002. The International General Secretary of VHP called for a new law that would behead anyone attempting to convert a Hindu.

Even the HAF report that was hyperlinked in the article only says that IAMC “previously hosted” Mohammad Siddiqi, the founder of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). 

After founding SIMI in 1977 Dr. Siddiqi left IT in 1980, fully 21 years before the Indian Government banned the organization. In 1981, Dr. Siddiq migrated to the US, where he became a US citizen and retired in 2015 after 28 years as a tenured Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at the Western Illinois University, an institution he had joined after receiving his PhD from Temple University, Philadelphia, in 1987.

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. 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.

Dr. Siddiqi has never been accused by police in any part of India of even the smallest of crimes, much less terrorism. As a US citizen of Indian origin, he has traveled to India multiple times to meet with his extended family, including after SIMI’s ban in 2001, but not once have Indian law enforcement agencies even questioned him.

Not only did Dr. Siddiqi have nothing to do with SIMI, he criticized 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.” (https://www.rediff.com/news/2003/sep/02inter.htm)

From 2009 to 2015, Dr. Siddiqi was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the world’s largest global body for people of different faiths. He chaired the Program Committee at the Parliament’s international conference held in October 2015 at Salt Lake City, which had more than 10,000 attendees from over 50 faiths and countries.

Dr. Siddiqi is a Board Member of the World Council of Muslims for Interfaith Relations set up in 2001 in London, UK. From 2009 to 2015, Dr. Siddiqi served the State of Illinois as an honorary Interfaith Chaplain, in which role he visited the state’s various Correction Centers and spoke with inmates to help them along a path to redemption. Dr. Siddiqi has also spoken at the maximum-security prison at Fort Madison, Iowa.

Mr. Westrop’s article also accuses IAMC of being an Islamist organization. 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. When last April terrorists attacked and killed Sikhs at a gurdwara in Kabul, IAMC released a statement categorically saying that the “reprehensible violence violates the basic tenets of Islam and must be condemned in the strongest terms.” Since its founding, IAMC has dedicated its advocacy in the defense of India’s secular and pluralist Constitution with all religions and religious communities receiving equal and equitable treatment from the state. 

IAMC has robust and enduring relationships with civil society organizations of all faiths. IAMC has hosted the leadership of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which represents thousands of Indian churches, as well as the All India Christian Council and the Jesuits. Notable Hindu, Dalit, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and non-faith leaders and organizations have long been IAMC’s partners.

IAMC works closely with globally renowned watchdog groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, American Bar Association, The Advocates for Human Rights among others.

IAMC has a strong connection with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the independent federal US commission that advises the US President, the US Congress and the US Government on action to be taken against the world’s offenders of religious freedom. MEF and HAF, on the other hand, run campaigns to defund USCIRF because it exposes the Hindu extremist violence in India that MEF and HAF support.

I will also advise you to be extremely circumspect of giving space in Newsweek to MEF, whose top leadership has been accused of sexual harassment as well as attempts to cover such harassment. Also, MEF and Mr. Pipes have themselves inspired terrorism, as affirmed by the fact that Anders Breving, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people to death in Oslo in 2011, mentioned MEF and Mr. Pipes 16 times in his 1,500-page manifesto.

 Rasheed Ahmed

Executive Director

Indian American Muslim Council