Death Threats Follow Anti-Islamist Tarek Fatah to India

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Tarek Fatah (Photo: Screenshot)

Hundreds of burka-clad women marched through the streets of Deoband, India, this week calling for the hanging of Tarek Fatah, Canada’s most caustic critic of political Islam.

A few days earlier in Bareilly, also in northern India, a Muslim organization called the All-India Faisan-e-Madina Council said they would pay one million rupees, or $15,000, to anybody who would behead Fatah while he is in India.

A few days before that in New Delhi, hostile young men infiltrated a crowd of fans looking for autographs and selfies, and roughed up Fatah slightly as they attempted to kick and punch him before police intervened.

“Your throat will… be slit,” Kolkata imam Syed Mohammad Nurur Rahman Barkati also told Fatah on television last month.

The violence and incitement to violence come in response to Fatah’s immensely popular television talk show, Fatah Ka Fatwa, or “Fatah’s Fatwa.” Even the title is irreverent.

The show airs nationally in India on Saturday nights in prime time and repeats on Sunday nights, drawing millions of viewers per episode. Eight of 13 installments have run so far in the first season, turning Fatah into both one of the country’s most recognizable celebrities and a political lightening rod.

“I [am] a virtual prisoner in my Delhi Hotel,” he wrote soberly of the security threats in his most recent weekly column for the Toronto Sun.

Protesters call for death by hanging for anti-Islamist activist Tarek Fatah. (Photo: screenshot)

More sardonically, he posted a photo on Facebook of the burka would-be lynch mob with the caption: “Mullahs watch from the sidelines as their second and third wives… march in a protest against me…. I hear the first wives were at home doing the cooking and mopping.”

Fatah, 67, was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and came to Canada 30 years ago, settling in Toronto. After the 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the United States, he founded a broad-based coalition of reform-minded Muslims called the Muslim Canadian Congress.

More and more — on TV, radio and in print — he began speaking against jihadi ideology and sharia, and ridiculed news reporters about preferring to speak with bearded clerics in Middle Eastern dress instead of clean-shaven secular Muslims like himself.

“I’m too good looking to be taken for a Muslim,” he would say.

I got to know him as a news contact when I worked as a Toronto Star reporter, and visited him briefly last month in Delhi.

He makes a colourful figure. He has grown his hair long, like a symphony conductor’s and walks with a cane as a result of having a cancerous tumor removed six years ago from his spine. Mercurial in nature, he can be by turns amusing, sharp-witted, irritating and hurtfully offensive.

Four years ago, Fatah started making trips to India to research a book on Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. An Indian edition of his book, The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, was released. Literary festivals invited him to speak. His public profile grew. Eventually, the Zee News channel hired him to host a talk show on Muslim issues in the mutually understandable languages of Hindi and Urdu.

To Fatah, no subject is taboo. Polygamy, child marriage, the burqa, sharia banking, Muslims’ contempt for non-Muslims and instant divorce for men known as “triple talaq” — Fatah takes them all head-on. His three, four or five studio guests often end up shouting at each other.

In the face of death threats, he is not about to change his style, he says. Neither is he counting on help from the Canadian High Commission, or the Canadian or Ontario governments. Last week, the Ontario legislature unanimously passed a motion condemning “all forms of Islamophobia.” The federal government is soon to pass a similar resolution.

“They would have us believe the real threat to our communities is ‘Islamophobia’ not Islamic radicals hell bent on killing in the name of Islam,” Fatah says.

Neither motion defines “Islamophobia” but both would appear to classify Fatah Ka Fatwa as Islamophobic and Fatah as an Islamophobe. Together, the resolutions put Ontario politicians and most federal ones on the side of the burka-clad mob in Deoband.

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John Goddard

John Goddard is an independent newspaper and magazine reporter living in Toronto.

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