Hate remarks against the Prophet | West Asian nations demand public apology from Indian government

External Affairs Ministry distances itself from offensive comments as OIC, Qatar, Kuwait and Pakistan issue strong condemnations

June 05, 2022 10:37 pm | Updated June 06, 2022 08:49 am IST - NEW DELHI

Brick-bats lie on the road as security personnel patrol after clashes between two communities over alleged remarks on Prophet Mohammed, at Parade Market in Kanpur. File

Brick-bats lie on the road as security personnel patrol after clashes between two communities over alleged remarks on Prophet Mohammed, at Parade Market in Kanpur. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The government on Sunday faced a growing diplomatic storm over comments made by the suspended BJP leaders, as countries in the Gulf region summoned Ambassadors and conveyed their concerns about growing “extremism and hatred” the comments signified. Qatar and Kuwait summoned India’s ambassadors in Doha and Kuwait City respectively and demanded a “public apology” from New Delhi for the comments that were considered “Islamophobic”, as did Iran, and a number of other Arab countries are understood to have informally conveyed their concerns over the comments to India. The controversy erupted even as Vice President Venkaiah Naidu began his visit to Doha, part of a three-nation tour. The Iranian protest came three days before the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is due to make his first visit to Delhi.

Meanwhile the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also issued a “strong condemnation” of what it called “abuses by an official of the ruling party of India (BJP)”, linking the comments to previous decisions to ban the hijab at educational institutions in certain Indian states, violence against minorities, and demolitions of their property.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called the comments “hurtful”, and accused the Modi government of “trampling [on] religious freedoms and persecuting Muslims.”

While the Indian Embassy in Doha and Kuwait subsequently issued statements clarifying that the comments “did not reflect the views of the Government of India”, and called those posting offensive tweets, as “fringe elements”, the Qatari and Kuwaiti governments demanded a public apology from the government.

“Noting that State of Qatar is expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the Government of India, pointing out that allowing such Islamophobic remarks to continue without punishment, constitutes a grave danger to the protection of human rights and may lead to further prejudice and marginalization, which will create a cycle of violence and hate,” the Foreign Ministry of Qatar said.

In a stronger comment on Twitter, Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson Lolwah Alkhater wrote that “Islamophobic discourse has reached dangerous levels in a country long known for its diversity and coexistence”, indicating India. He said unless the government of India “officially and systemically” confronts hate speech, it would be considered a “deliberate insult” against two billion Muslims worldwide.

An official dinner in honour of Vice President Venkaiah Naidu to be held by the Deputy Emir of Qatar Abdullah bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was also cancelled on Sunday evening, sources confirmed, ostensibly as he was suspected to have come in contact with an individual who had tested positive for Coronavirus. When asked, Officials said that the cancellation was not connected to Qatar’s protest over the offensive comments and pointed out that Mr. Naidu had been informed of the cancellation earlier and the rest of the Vice President’s visit was proceeding as scheduled and has not been curtailed.

In its response, the Indian Embassy issued a statement, hours after Ambassador Deepak Mittal was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and handed the demarche.

“In line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity, Government of India accords the highest respect to all religions,” read the statement, adding that “Strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks.” “A statement has also been issued by concerned quarters emphasizing respect for all religions, denouncing insult to any religious personality or demeaning any religion or sect,” it said, referring to the statement issued by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. A similiar statement was issued by the Indian Embassy in Kuwait after Ambassador Sibi George was summoned.

Speaking to The Hindu, commentators indicated that the official protests by the Arab countries, that came more than a week after the original comments were made by a BJP spokesperson on the Times Now news channel, had followed growing outrage expressed on social media, along with calls for a boycott of Indian-made products. “We in Saudi Arabia know that majority of Hindus in India do no subscribe to such extreme opinions and I have many Hindu friends. Yet, we wonder why certain people are making provocative statements as that will not help us at all,” said former editor of Arab News and Saudi Gazette Khaled Almayeena.

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