This bears reference to an article published by Sunday Guardian Live, headlined “Chicago’s Indian American Muslim Council doth protest too much,” authored by Benjamin Baird of the Middle East Forum (MEF).
I am writing to point out the lies, fallacies and ludicrous distortions in the article about IAMC, the organization that I represent, in the hope that you may do the right thing by removing Mr. Baird’s trash from your website.
Firstly, are you sure you want to associate with the Middle East Forum (MEF), an organization that is known to have inspired mass murder? You should know that Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in 2011, cited the Middle East Forum and its founder, Daniel Pipes, 16 times in his 1,500-page “manifesto” as his inspiration for committing the terror acts. Even if you are all in with the Hindutva fascists with all their baloney, you need to reconsider hanging out with MEF. Besides inspiring a mass murderer, MEF has long been outed as one of the worst xenophobic and racist organizations that revels in peddling hate and disinformation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the hugely-respected US nonprofit that works against white supremacy and tracks hate groups, describes MEF as a “think tank run by anti-Muslim provocateur Daniel Pipes”. The SPLC has written that Pipes is an “anti-Muslim activist” who has “spent the better part of three decades vilifying Muslims”. Likewise, the Bridge Initiative of Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown University, has called the MEF “a right-wing anti-Islam think tank that spreads misinformation, creates “watchlists” targeting academics… provides funding to numerous anti-Muslim organizations and has provided legal services to a number of anti-Muslim activists including [Islamophobic Dutch politician] Geert Wilders and [British far right anti-Islam activist] Tommy Robinson.” In 2018, Mr. Pipes financed a violent far right rally in support of Tommy Robinson who had been sentenced to imprisonment for violating court orders. Those marchers had attacked the police and were widely condemned internationally.
You should also know that in 2017 a British court ordered Sam Westrop, the MEF’s “Islamist Watch Director”, to pay damages of £140,000 for falsely claiming in an article that a Tunisian Muslim man was a “convicted terrorist”. The judge wrote that not only did Mr. Westrop fail to provide any evidence to back his claim, he refused to take down the article until the court forced him to do so. Eventually, Mr. Westrop acknowledged the man was not a terrorist. Incidentally, this bogus Mr. Westrop is the one who wrote the defamatory Newsweek article about IAMC in December, which Mr. Baird, his colleague, references in his piece on your website.
Indeed, falsification and spurious garbage are a recurring trait with MEF folks. In 1995, after domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh carried out a deadly bombing at Oklahoma killing 168 people, Mr. Pipes, in an interview with USA Today, suggested that Muslims were behind the terror act. He never apologized even after it was known that the perpetrator was not Muslim but a White terrorist.
I hope you know that Mr. Pipes has been accused by multiple female employees of protecting a serial sex offender, Gregg Roman, in at least four lawsuits in the US. Mr. Roman is the MEF Director and the second-in-command to Mr. Pipes. You might want to read all the lawsuits here. At least nine women have claimed that every time they brought the issue of sexual harassment by Mr. Roman to Mr. Pipes’s attention, he was not only dismissive of the allegations but was openly hostile to the complainants.
Following are a few quotes from the lengthy lawsuits:
“Defendant, Daniel Pipes suggested that because priests who molest children were permitted by the Catholic Church to remain priests, Defendant, Greg Roman should be permitted to continue his employment at the MEF.”
“At every opportunity, Defendant, Daniel Pipes has introduced policies, procedures, and protocols designed to punish the victims (female employees of The Middle East Forum) who have claimed abuse and sexual abuse, while rewarding the individual accused of abusing these same female employees.”
According to one of the lawsuits, Greg Roman was alleged to have sexually harassed and/or forcibly had sex with no less than 14 employees reporting to him at MEF, including an 18 year old intern. Moreover, at a meeting called by Daniel Pipes to address the issue of sexual harassment by Greg Roman, one of the participants accused the victims of “wearing revealing cloths” and attracting Roman’s attention.
Oh, by the way, Mr. Pipes has no love for brown desi types such as you and me. The Harvard University’s Pluralism Project Archive notes that in 1990 Mr. Pipes wrote in the National Review that “Western societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene.”
You should also read the seminal report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the respected Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization that was until recently run by Neera Tanden. Ms. Tanden is now the Director of the US Office of Management and Budget in President Biden’s administration. The CAP report calls Mr. Pipes a “misinformation expert,” recalling that he had been part of the campaign that spread the lie about former President Barack Obama being a Muslim.
Now let’s come to Mr. Baird’s article you have published. Firstly, it is not “Chicago’s” IAMC. IAMC is registered in Washington, D.C., and it has two dozen chapters across the US, Chicago being one.
Next, Mr. Baird writes that my comment on Facebook against drinking cow urine to cure coronavirus amounts to “spouting repugnant anti-Hindu slurs and mocking Hindu tradition.” However, this dangerous idea of using cow urine both as a prevention of Covid-19 infection and as a treatment for the disease is exactly what the RSS and BJP have been advocating. In July, BJP West Bengal President Dilip Ghosh urged people to “drink cow urine to beat coronavirus.” On cue, BJP workers started organizing “cow urine drinking parties” in the state. You can see a picture of one such party here. BJP MLA in Assam Suman Haripriya said as much in the State Assembly. In fact, a BJP Member of Parliament declared in the Rajya Sabha that cow urine and cow dung can cure cancer. Here’s a news story on Mr. Modi’s own cow dung fetish, as reported in The Economist. Moreover, although I am no authority on Hinduism, I beg you to not defame the good name of Hinduism by equating it with anti-science myths such as cow urine being adequate protection against the coronavirus. Such ideas are dangerous to public health.
In addition, Mr. Baird writes about a quote posted on Facebook by my colleague Ajit Sahi: “Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers.” This is a quote from Abbie Hoffman, as Mr. Sahi, a Hindu and a vegetarian, mentions in his post. Hoffman was an iconic American political and social activist who defined the counterculture era and who rose to nationwide recognition in the 1960s for his anti-war advocacy. I bet Hoffman was not thinking of Hindus when he made that cheeky comment. Surely you, as a man of letters, can appreciate the metaphor of “sacred cows?”
Mr. Baird then writes of Facebook flagging a post by IAMC. Well, as you may know, Wall Street Journal and Time, both publications much better known than yours, last year thoroughly exposed Facebook India’s partisan behavior and functioning as a Hindu nationalist propaganda team. Facebook has been routinely stifling anti-RSS criticism and punishing critics of the Indian government by suspending their accounts. That behavior was so egregious that even Facebook was shamed into sacking Ankhi Das, a top official who was a Hindutva Trojan horse in Facebook. I am happy to report that Foley Hoagg LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that Facebook has hired to do a Human Rights Assessment Impact (HRIA) of Facebook India’s practices in India, has already interviewed IAMC at length.
After this, Mr. Baird’s article quickly descends into MEF’s boilerplate Islamophobia. Funny that Mr. Baird thinks Mr. Hamid Ansari, India’s former Vice-President, is someone we should avoid because he supported the Muslims’ constitutionally mandated rights to administer their social practices via their personal laws. This, as Mr. Ansari explained, had nothing to do with the criminal justice system, which is equally applicable to all citizens.
Mr. Baird then suggests that Ladeeda Farzana and Aysha Renna (who he misspells as Ayenna Resha), two brave and fearless Indian student activists, are some kind of Islamic extremists. Thankfully, the liberal western world does not share Mr. Baird’s loony rightwing bigotry. In the West, both women have been hailed as the face of India’s determined rejection of Mr. Modi’s anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act.
This is followed by Mr. Baird’s mind-boggling “gotcha” comment about IAMC’s association with Mr. Harsh Mander, as if the latter is a terrorist! A former officer of the top-notch Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Mr. Mander has served on one of the core groups of the National Human Rights Commission of India, also also a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India in the “Right to Food Campaign.” He was also a member of the National Advisory Council of the Government of India, set up under the UPA government. Mr. Mander is a featured speaker at Amnesty International and his human rights work is extensively referenced by Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups.
Of course, Mr. Baird thinks he can use IAMC’s associations with eminent personalities and organizations in order to smear the organization. Monochromatic hatemongers at MEF who only collaborate with other hate mongers understandably take umbrage when pluralist organizations like IAMC work with mainstream society and institutions. Over the years, we have invited hundreds of activists, leaders, elected officials and influential people across multiple faiths, ideologies and political persuasions.
Mr. Baird appears to be making a big deal about Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) National Vice-President Mohammed Salim Engineer being invited to speak at an IAMC event. Although Mr. Engineer did not appear at said event, Mr. Baird believes JIH’s views against LGBTQ rights is somehow proof against IAMC. MEF’s own hypocrisy on the issue can be gauged from the fact that Mr. Greg Roman, is a regular featured speaker at Tony Perkin’s anti-LGBTQ radio show. The sexual harassment lawsuits against MEF also allege that Daniel Pipes and MEF’s second in command Gregg Roman actively harassed a female gay employee on account of her gender, called her “a walking lawsuit” and forced her to quit the organization.
Mr. Baird’s assertions about SIMI are once again too-clever-by-half, the same trope that Mr. Westrop deployed in the Newsweek article that we have demolished in two letters. Here is a quick recap: SIMI was founded in 1977. It was outlawed in 2001, nearly a quarter century later. Its founder, Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqui, left India for the US in 1981, thus ending his association with SIMI. Was Mr. Siddiqui ever named as even a person of interest by police across India in the 24 years until the group’s ban? No. Has the Indian police named Mr. Siddiqui as a person of interest, leave alone as an accused, even after SIMI’s ban? No. And what has Mr. Siddiqui said about SIMI? That it should never have moved to extremist views. So what exactly are Mr. Westrop and Mr. Baird basing their wild claims on to influence you to publish their nonsense? Answer: unverified quotes from unnamed government officials.
For example, going a step ahead of Mr. Westrop, Mr. Baird cites a report from IANS, the news agency, published in Outlook India, quoting an unnamed police officer as saying SIMI was involved in subversive activities from its inception. Very well. Where are the police reports from 1977 to 2001 suggesting that? Can Mr. Baird show them? If S. Q. R. Ilyas is guilty of subversion and terrorism why hasn’t he ever been arrested and charged? If anything, Mr. Ilyas is a victim of the pernicious and rabid Hindu nationalist police state. His son, Umar Khalid, a towering Indian social and political activist, has been arrested and wrongfully charged for last year’s anti-Muslim violence that was actually carried out by RSS cadres in Delhi. Noam Chomsky, among other globally-recognized personalities, has signed a public letter demanding he be released and charges be dropped.
Rihanna’s tweet last week on the ongoing farmers’ protests has so disconcerted everyone down from Mr. Modi that the Hindutva brigade has no clue on how to fight the global blowback to their hate-filled, xenophobic, majoritarian, anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, anti-Christian ethnocentric nationalism. The RSS is an anachronism that draws inspiration from Nazi Germany and adheres to a pre-World War II ideology that has no place in the 21st century. The world sees it and knows it.
Let’s cut to the chase and get to the real story here. The MEF has been deployed by the American Sangh to smear us, only because we are increasingly winning the narrative in the US. Except for the crazy rightwing loonies such as the MEF, nobody in the West is willing to buy the toxic anti-human Hindutva ideology, which has besmirched the great name of the religion of Hinduism.
For nearly two years, the Indian Government, and its lackeys in the Hindutva front organizations in the US, have been losing their propaganda war. First, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that India be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its violations of religious freedom. As it were, IAMC strongly supports USCIRF’s work and USCIRF Commissioners are regular panelists at IAMC’s Congressional briefings. The American Sangh on the other hand, has been shamelessly lobbying US Congress for years to defund USCIRF.
Over the last year, city after American city has been passing resolutions against CAA-NRC, which has deeply rattled the Hindutva brigade. Two Congressional hearings in 2019 demolished the Hindutva narrative on Kashmir and much else. US news media such as New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have been regularly exposing the lies and deceit peddled by the Indian Government and HAF types. We have USCIRF, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Special Rapporteur with us. HAF has MEF. Who do you think is winning?
You can still take down Mr. Baird’s piece and save yourself continuing embarrassment.
Executive Director, Indian American Muslim Council