Mohammed Asif Khan is an Indian Muslim activist and social media influencer who actively speaks about hate crimes and Hindutva mob lynchings against Muslims, and Islamophobia in India. His Twitter account was recently suspended in January for comparing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with German politician and leader of the Nazi Party Adolf Hitler. Asif, who is also a Mumbai-based professional, shares his experiences with Maktoob about what it means to be a Muslim voice in Social Media today. Here, he speaks to Haneena PA, media student at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Edited excerpts.
1. What are the challenges you face while being an active ‘Muslim’ voice but not a so-called liberal voice on twitter?
Being a Muslim is a religious identity and being a liberal is a political identity. People often misunderstand that a Muslim can’t be liberal which is a wrong perception. A Muslim can be a right-winger or a liberal centrist or a communist as well. People think that being liberal is something good or an epitome of goodness. When a Muslim tries to assert his identity or when he harshly speaks against persecution or injustice they are quickly labeled as radicals or anti-national. The so-called liberals want to compromise. They want ‘Peace without Justice’. They often warn those who assert their identity that doesn’t speak harshly, it will ruin our communal harmony.
But what Muslims will do with that Peace without justice? We don’t want peace at the cost of justice. There are many cases against Muslims who are vocal about their identity facing threats from society and Law. There is Sharjeel Imam, Dr. Kafeel Khan, Umar Khalid and so many other people who face atrocities from state and society as well. But on the other side, you have Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and so many BJP leaders who have given genocidal speeches. No action was taken against them. Kapil Mishra is given Y security. But this is not the case of Muslims. We have to face challenges for being a Muslim itself.
People want Muslims to look a certain way. They should be dressed in long clothes and should have a beard. They should not speak in English or wear western clothes. A Muslim will have more than one wife and 6 or 7 children. They should live in ghettos. When they see a Muslim woman in a burqa, people assume that she must have been oppressed and we should save them from Mullahs. These are the images created in the minds of society about Muslims. These images got popular post 26/11. To break such stereotypes, we should reboot them with data. We should use social media and the Internet. What I see in the new generation is, people are, whether they are practicing Muslims or not, proudly asserting their identity, fighting against injustice and breaking stereotypes.
2. Why there is no recognition for Muslim voices in social media? Why are their accounts not verified by authorities?
To get a verified account, what I understand is either you should be a public figure or you should be associated with some organization. Some independent Bahujan accounts are also verified after a lot of rage against discrimination. But this is not the case with Muslims. Unlike Muslims, the other Bahujan people have shown their power. They are well organized, whereas Muslims are not.
Twitter is complicit in spreading Islamophobia. There are a lot of users associated with right-wing or BJP who are spreading abusive tweets and posts. They abuse the prophet, the religion and they literally call shaheen bagh protesting women as prostitutes. Twitter is biased especially against those who speak against the government. I have received legal notices from twitter a number of times which say that some law enforcement agencies or government authorities complained that my tweets violate Indian law. Apart from social media, the government and police also start to keep an eye on you. Today there are high chances for filing a case against you if you are a Muslim and speaking against injustice happening in this country.
3. Whether the Muslim community is capable of resisting these challenges?
Definitely we are. It will take time. The present generation is politically literate and aware of their political rights. They are organizing themselves and coming out to protest which is providing hope. In older times, Muslims were so apologetic about their identity. But now Muslims are proud fully asserting their identity and speaking up and That’s what we are witnessing in the CAA struggle.
4. What are the threats you faced while tweeting about the Muslim genocide that happened in Delhi?
Firstly, I have stopped reading the comments appearing on my wall. There are organized people who follow the same ideology that keeps on tweeting to take legal actions against me.
While tweeting about Muslim genocide happened in Delhi, there were people who were asking police to file a complaint against me, accusing me of spreading fake news and targeting the Hindu community. But that won’t stop me from speaking up. The people who died in the state-sponsored pogrom were poor, the people who were not privileged. So the people who are privileged and can afford to speak up against the injustice should come forward.
5. In January, your account was suspended for comparing Modi with Hitler. Can you explain the incident and how it got reinstated again?
I posted a meme that compared Modi with Hitler. My account was suspended afterward. I hadn’t received any prior notification from twitter regarding the action. I wrote emails to twitter India enquiring about the suspension. Then people started tweeting about the suspension and my account was reinstated after 6 hours. But there are many Muslim accounts I know which was suspended for no reason and dint got reinstated even after the people raged against.
6. BJP Has a very well organized IT cell which is working for targeting voices that speak against them. What Muslims can do to deal with these problems?
Muslims alone can’t fight these challenges. Because they are less in number whereas, on the other side, there is money and muscle power. Muslims are not working on behalf of some organization but independent. They need like-minded allies to support them. It can be Dalits, Bahujans, communists, liberals or leftists but not islamophobes. Twitter is an open platform. People from other countries can also be allies since they can afford to speak against these problems. That’s what journalists like Rana Ayyub do, she writes for the Washington Post and other international media. Surely we can’t outnumber them but we can be strong voices who speak the truth. The right-wing people can’t always survive on fake news.
7. How do state policies influence twitter guidelines?
I believe that social media like Twitter and Facebook are controlled by the government, especially in India. In so many cases, people who are pro-government posted tweets that call for communal violence but don’t face suspension or action. Even if actions are taken they don’t last. Their accounts get blue ticks and verified. Contrary to this, people who speak against the government receive account suspension. Also, the accounts face shadow banning. Twitter reduces the visibility of their tweets which is clear proof that they do it purposefully and hence acting pro-government.
8. Post Charlie Hebdo attacks, there is a tendency from the government to put the responsibility of inciting communal violence on the users hence using censorship as a tool to suppress the voices that speak against them. What do you think about that?
Today, if you are speaking about a real incident that happened against Muslims then it is hate speech whereas chanting Goli maaro saalo ko is not. When I posted videos showing mob violence against Muslims, I am labeled as who spread hatred and communal violence. According to the government, calling Chakka jam is sedition and Goli maaro saalo ko is not. So they decide who is national and who is not. They know what their voter wants. They don’t care about the economy, employment, and development but about Kashmir and Ram Mandir.
9. Apart from these, what do you want to suggest to the emerging young voices?
Remember what Jews did after the Holocaust. They never let the world forget what happened to them. Every single day they write about how holocaust occurred and how they were killed in Auschwitz. That’s how people remember it. But in India, it is easy for the present government to wash away what happened in 1992, 2002 from its memory and they do not face the consequences of it. So we should not stop raising our voices against what happened before and what’s happening now. The media has the power to show the truth. So People should write every day about the injustices happening against the minorities in our country and never let the fascist goons erase the past from history.