On May 26, The Print published an article by Martha Lee of Middle East Forum (MEF) entitled “Stand With Kashmir not an innocent hashtag, it supports violent Islamists and terrorists.” The article made a number of defamatory claims regarding our grassroots social justice advocacy movement, Stand with Kashmir.
The Middle East Forum is notorious for its virulent Islamophobia and was created for the purpose of demonizing scholars and activists who call attention to the Israeli state’s vindictive treatment of Palestinians. Its founder, Daniel Pipes, has spent decades “promoting anti-Muslim tropes and has financed numerous activists and organizations that spread misinformation about Muslims and Islam.” The MEF fosters hate across the globe. Anders Brevik, the Norwegian mass-murderer, cited the MEF and Pipes numerous times in his manifesto detailing his motivations for his July 2011 slaughter of 77 Norwegians. Since 2001, the organization has received over $12 million in funding from donors who are well-established in the Islamophobia network, and in turn donates funds to organizations founded by a range of anti-Muslim ideologues. That the Islamophobia industry in the US has suddenly taken an interest in Kashmir after the events of August 2019 is only indicative of the hateful alliance between the pro-India lobby in the US and well-known Islamophobes and Zionists.
For The Print to give the Middle East Forum a platform to publish its bigoted, unsubstantiated, and manifestly libelous claims is particularly ironic given that the very next day, one of its Contributing Editors published an article on Islamophobia in Indian news coverage: “India’s anti-Muslim fake news factories are following the anti-Semitic playbook.”
Any respectable news portal would have asked Stand With Kashmir to respond before it published Martha Lee’s article. Since The Print chose not to, we wish to reiterate that Stand With Kashmir is an independent, transnational, social justice advocacy movement committed to standing in solidarity with the people of Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir in ending the Indian occupation of their homeland and supporting the right to self-determination. We do not advocate a particular solution for Jammu and Kashmir, but rather advocate for a just process in which its people are able to decide their future. In addition, we stand against all forms of oppression, with allies ranging from the Palestine solidarity struggle to the black liberation struggle. Although we are steered by the Kashmiri diaspora, our volunteers and supporters are of diverse national, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.
Much of Martha Lee’s offensive piece is centered on the libellous claim that Stand with Kashmir somehow “supports violent Islamists and terrorists”, based primarily on our advocacy for the release of all Kashmiris who have been detained by the Indian state. Our Release Kashmiri Prisoners campaign is no different from prisoner releases that a number of social justice advocacy groups have advocated for in view of the pandemic. We advocate on behalf of all Kashmiris who are unjustly detained by a legal system that is not interested in any semblance of due process, but rather, believes in satisfying the “collective conscience” of the Indian nation. Furthermore, political prisoners are incarcerated as “terrorists,” which is an age-old strategy to malign the movement for self-determination. Surely, SWK can advocate, on principle, for Kashmiris of diverging political persuasions who are detained by an unjust military occupation, without necessarily adopting or advocating their individual politics? Further we wish to reject the assumption made by Lee’s article that there is no multiplicity of views or perspectives within the movement for self-determination. Even a casual observer of Kashmiri politics will recognize the range of political positions embodied by the hundreds of political figures now incarcerated without due process.
The article, and by extension The Print, falsely presents the list of experts on our webpage as being the Stand with Kashmir organizers, and repeatedly refers to a number of academics as our “representatives.” These experts are scholars, film-makers, and writers from diverse fields with years of research, publication on and experience in Kashmir. The list is meant to serve as an academic resource for college campuses and media outlets. It is again unfortunate that The Print allowed this piece to run without “fact-checking” even the most basic of its fallacious claims.
Lee also falsely describes an event SWK endorsed as a coalition member (along with fifteen other social justice advocacy organizations) and shared on our Facebook page, as one in which Congresswoman Ilhan Omar “joined SWK for an event on ‘racial justice’ and ‘militarization in Kashmir’.” Congresswoman Omar did speak at the town hall, but there is no mention of Kashmir or its militarization. Nor did a representative of SWK speak at the town hall, which was focused on US wars and militarization. Why did The Print publish such shoddy, putatively “investigative,” journalism?
The Islamophobic attack against Stand with Kashmir is part of a concerted effort by the pro-India and Hindutva lobby in the US to malign Kashmiri diaspora activism. After the events of August 2019, Kashmiris were effectively cut off from the rest of the world, and the level of repression intensified locally. In that moment, it was the Kashmiri diaspora—across the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East—that effectively became the voice of a silenced people. Since then, the diaspora has organized multiple protests, engaged in political advocacy campaigns with their elected officials and government representatives, and conducted a series of educational events in universities and community spaces. The pro-India lobby as well as the Indian embassy ramped up its existing efforts to mobilize right-wing elements in the Indian-American community in favor of the abrogation, and also began a targeted campaign to control messaging in the US Congress, as highlighted in this piece in The Intercept. Many of their tactics revolved around smearing the movement for self-determination in Kashmir by describing it as “terrorism,” a tactic that is replicated in the article in The Print.
In a time that the Indian media, including supposedly-independent news portals, have largely failed to cover events in Kashmir—ranging from grotesque repression and violence, the destruction of homes and property, and the impact of the changes in the domicile laws—it is particularly unfortunate that The Print accepted an article that demonizes a group of people who raise awareness of the core issues that bedevil Kashmiri lives. In publishing it, The Print joins the ranks of newspapers that serve, rather than interrogate, the policies and vindictive practices of the Indian state.