Fanning Minority Fears

Of all categories of people in our societies, journalists understand meanings of words instinctively and the societal context in which they are understood by common readers. Shahid Siddiqui is the chief editor and owner of Nai Duniya, an Urdu newspaper that has been read by Indian Muslims for over 41 years. Siddiqui controls the weekly newspaper and decides images, headlines and articles that are published. Since it is generally accepted that Muslims have low literacy levels and cannot evolve enlightened responses to emerging issues, it is reasonable to expect Siddiqui’s newspaper to show a positive path for Indian Muslims.

As a school-going youth in the 1980s, this writer watched Siddiqui’s newspaper arrive regularly in bookstalls at railway stations with cover pages that would leap to our eyes with messages such as: Islam is in danger; Muslims are under siege; the West is hunting Muslims; Jews are evil. It hasn’t changed. A review of Nai Duniya, of its digital issues over the past few years, indicates that Siddiqui sells siege mentality, conspiracy theories and mass fears to unsuspecting Muslims. The magazine’s current issue has a cover page image of a Muslim girl crying with folded hands as numerous arrows are unleashed at her face and a menacing man lurches to harm her; the headline reads: “Why is the whole world the enemy of Muslims?”

Prime minister Narendra Modi made an extraordinary effort to tell the world that al-Qaeda is delusional to think it can attract Indian Muslims. Modi’s statement was brave amid reports of some Indian Muslims joining jihadists in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. However, in the current issue Siddiqui questions Modi’s effort: “Muslim lives for India, dies for India—Modi’s statement: how much truth, how much politics?” It is journalistic duty to question politicians’ statements, but headlines reflect on an editor’s mind: “If he got power, what will Modi become—Akbar or Hitler”; “To occupy India, the Hindu card by Modi and Rajnath—from the pen of Shahid Siddiqui”; “Modi [rubs] salt on the wounds of Muslims”; “To install Modi as prime minister, RSS’s ‘antakwadi [terror] plan’—special investigative report”; “Who will become the prime minister—feku or pappu”; “Sex CD made—Noose around Modi’s neck? ‘Sahab’ should tell what was after all his relationship with this girl?”

In the worldview that Siddiqui injects into Muslim consciousness, courageous reformist Taslima Nasreen and litterateur Salman Rushdie are shown as Satan as in the cover page headlines: “Satan’s daughter [Taslima Nasreen]—how long will she have fun on the Indian soil”; “On the back of Satan [Salman Rushdie], the Congress’s hand”; “The attack of Satan [Salman Rushdie] on Muslims and Imran [Khan of Pakistan]”. While legitimate criticisms of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land must be welcomed, Siddiqui doesn’t differentiate between Jews and Israel as his mind is clouded by the tide of global anti-Semitism. Cover page headlines read: “Before attack on Iran, the Jewish conspiracy to have the Islamic world fight against the whole world”; “The Jews’ satanic propaganda in America—Muslims [are] animal; the world of Islam stunned by ad campaign in New York”. The ad was given by a pro-Israel group urging people to defeat jihad.

Of all Western leaders, Barack Obama has gone out of his way to forge goodwill with Muslims, delivering an address in Cairo, urging NASA to help Muslim scientists, opening negotiations with Iran, releasing Guantanamo inmates. However, Siddiqui’s newspaper blamed him for backing anti-Islam forces like pastor Terry Jones. A cover page headline reads: “Obama on the back of the Satan blaspheming the Quran”; a detailed sub-headline reads: “In order to win elections for the second time, American president Obama is proving himself a fanatical Christian and is encouraging Islam-enemy elements such as Terry Jones”. Siddiqui also accused Obama of planning a nuclear attack on Mecca. A cover page headline reads: “At the hint of American president’s finger—atom bomb on the House of Kaaba; Nai Duniya had presented this truth before the world four months ago”; another headline: “Drop atom bomb on the House of Kaaba—the beginning of a new Crusade war in America”. Another cover page carries a Dracula-like image of Obama with a headline: “America’s war against Islam—Obama’s filthy face unmasked”.

Siddiqui exerts extraordinary influence in shaping the minds of Muslims. His newspaper not only damages the Muslim psychology for the long term, it also harms India’s cohesion, the democratic ethos of Indian republic, as well as India’s national security interests. On the Kashmir issue, it carried this cover page headline: “Modiji! Let the jinn of 370 stay in the bottle.” In a cover page image, a single noose hangs around half the faces of Ajmal Kasab and Manmohan Singh as the headline reads: “Who after Kasab?” Similar headlines about terror threat to India read: “Indian Mujahideen—how much reality, how much fiction”; “Does Modi really have a [security] threat?”; “Ishrat’s blood will take revenge of all Muslim youths”; “Muslim youths—terrorists or targets of terror?” In an article, Siddiqui juxtaposed Muslims against India; the headline reads: “Hyderabad blasts—Hindustan or Muslims in terror”.

In its issue of November 18-24, 2013, Siddiqui insinuated that even Pakistan wanted Modi as the prime minister. The cover page headline without a question mark reads: “Does Pakistan also want that Modi become prime minister”; a sub-headline insinuated that intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan were working together to make Modi the prime minister. The sub-head reads: “The spy agencies of both the countries are playing a game to make Modi the prime minister—a special report by Nai Duniya”; another headline reads: “Does ISI want that Modi become India’s prime minister”; the report’s opening sentences include: “Does IB [Intelligence Bureau] desire that he should sit on the country’s most powerful chair?” Siddiqui’s Nai Duniya is engaged in keeping Indian Muslims psychologically sick and while he should continue to publish in India’s liberty, the Indian government must order an inquiry into its four decades of reportage to find out what keeps Muslims alienated from the country’s mainstream.

Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research

Institute, Washington DC. Email:

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