Washington, DC: In China, Uyghur Muslims are being held in concentration camps and subjected to forced labour. In Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have fled, fearing a genocide at the hands of the government, and now sit in the largest refugee camp in the world in neighbouring Bangladesh.
An American Islamist foundation that oversees an entire network of media and advocacy organizations dedicated to Islamist causes, is trying to use these unquestioned horrors to tack on the more contentious issue of the terror-ridden Himalayan Muslim-majority region of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), a source of tension between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence from British rule in 1947.
Justice for All, the activist subsidiary of the Chicago-based multimedia company Sound Vision Foundation, has focused since 2012 to "raise awareness regarding the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Burma [now Myanmar]." It also has a campaign calling attention to the plight of Uyghurs in China. But Justice for All is now pushing a theocratic, Islamist view in the Kashmir debate. While doing so, it conflates the issue of Kashmir with the plight of the Rohingya and the Uyghurs.
A crystalizing example comes from a "scorecard" that Justice for All promoted during the Democratic presidential primaries, noting their position on "Kashmir, Uighur and Rohingyas," as if these issues are all simply about tyrannical governments violently oppressing local people.
While reasonable minds can differ on how to settle the long-simmering issue of J&K, its differences with the issues of the Rohingya and the Uyghurs are vast.
Unlike China, India is a democracy that has a strong commitment to the rule of law and individual rights. To the degree the issue of Kashmir has created mass refugees, as is the case of Myanmar and the Rohingya, it was Hindus leaving Kashmir as a result of jihadist violence, not as a result of governmental oppression. Indeed, to the degree that the Indian government has overstepped since announcing the end of Kashmir's special status, it has been responding to jihadi violence.
Yet Justice for All and its parent, Sound Vision, ignore all these facts. In recent months, pushing an Islamist narrative on Kashmir has become an all-consuming focus for the network. A Pakistan-backed Kashmir leader, who is reported to support jihadists such as US-designated Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin, for example, was a featured guest on Sound Vision's Muslim Network TV.
On 30 November, Sardar Masood Khan, president of "Azad" or "Free" Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir according to India), appeared on Muslim Network TV's "Mujahid Talks" show hosted by Sound Vision's founding chairman, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid.
The hour-long talk show painted Kashmiris as unfortunate victims of brutal Indian aggression and perpetuated the myth of a "systematic genocide" of Kashmiris by India's "one million army" deployed in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
"There were killings every day...instances of rape used as an instrument of war...enforced disappearances, fake encounters and...arbitrary detentions of thousands of people who are being tortured in concentration camps and prisons in the occupied territory and in northern India," Khan claimed.
Khan's accusations were echoed by Mujahid, who alleged that India had "reinvaded Kashmir, occupying it once again and this time dividing it up in bits and pieces, and then allowing all that one million army and its civilian forces from all around India to actually settle and change the demographics of Kashmir".
Mujahid was alluding to India's August 2019 voiding of Article 370 that divided J&K into two federally-administered territories, J&K and Ladakh that are now governed by New Delhi. Article 370 provided J&K special autonomous powers to make its own laws outside of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications.
The Indian government justified the action by saying the earlier stipulation fomented separatism and cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, and encouraged corruption and family rule in the state. Scrapping the "temporary" constitutional provision gives J&K residents the same rights as other Indians, and will boost economic development and job opportunities in the region, India claims.
Khan further decried the "fascist activities that were being pursued by the Indian violent extremists" in Kashmir, but remained silent about some of the deadliest attacks perpetrated by Pakistan-based jihadi groups in J&K, including the November killing of two Indian Army soldiers in Srinagar by terrorists.
The attack happened days before Kashmir's local elections, and coincided with the 12th anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks that left 183 people dead, including nine terrorists, and hundreds more injured.
The allegations of a "systematic genocide" of Kashmiris by a "one million army" are false. They parrot Pakistan's vicious misinformation campaign that helps perpetuate the Islamic republic's decades-long asymmetric war against arch-rival India.
Yet these sorts of wild accusations coming from Sound Vision platforms and individuals are not unique to Mujahid and his guests. Hena Zuberi, who leads Justice for All's Washington, D.C. chapter, published an article that claimed, "Young men are abducted or 'disappeared' by Indian security forces, and sometimes die in custody. In the last few years more than 10,000 have disappeared and over 7,000 have been killed in military custody." The article then claims that "10,283 reported they have been gang raped by the Indian military."
Yet no source is given for these wildly unrealistic numbers. The oddly specific "10,283" number of rapes seems to have come from a graphic posted on a now-defunct website "Kashmir Bleeds," which tracks closely with estimates from Kashmir Media Service, a decades-old propaganda outlet. Kashmir Bleeds also claims at least 95,000 Kashmiris have died since 1989, the year that marked the start of a Pakistan-backed insurgency in the former state that was soon followed by a mass exodus of Kashmiri Hindus and the brutal rape and murder of Hindu women like Girija Tickoo.
The number of dead, from a respected Indian think-tank, is closer to 48,000 dead, more than 25,000 of whom were terrorists or militants. Another 7,000 were part of the Indian military. About 15,000 civilians have been killed, but there is no indication that the Indian military was responsible for most of those deaths. Most were undoubtedly killed by terrorists.
Yet none of this stopped Sound Vision's social justice arm ("Justice for All") from launching its "Free Kashmir" campaign "to raise the visibility of the Kashmiri right to self-determination and call for the end of the occupation."
This should come as no great surprise. Sound Vision was established in 1988 in Chicago, Illinois, by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) that also advocates for Kashmiri self-determination.
ICNA is "openly affiliated" with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), says a resolution introduced in February 2019 by US Rep Jim Banks, R-Ind, in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The JI is a South Asian Sunni revivalist movement which was created in 1941 by Islamist ideologue Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in Lahore, Pakistan, which was then part of British India.
Maududi preached, "wherever you are, in whichever country you live, you must strive to change the wrong basis of government, and exercise all powers to the rule and make laws from those who do not fear God."
An advanced syllabus of Islam on Sound Vision's website lists Maududi's works along with other Islamist scholars affiliated with the JI and Muslim Brotherhood movements, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Khurram Murad.
The misinformation campaign on J&K, including by Sound Vision, has become more virulent in the wake of the Indian government's embrace of a muscular policy of retaliatory strikes against Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks and its August 2019 voiding of Article 370.
"These developments have forced it [Pakistan] to shift the emphasis of its anti-India strategy from fomenting terrorism supported by an information war component to an information war supported by terrorism," explained Tilak Devashar, a member of India's National Security Advisory Board. Sound Vision's refocus on India, at the expense of Myanmar and China, can thus be understood as a response to a threat to Islamist rule, rather than concern for Muslim lives or Muslim civil rights.
India has taken steps to improve development infrastructure and grow employment in J&K since the removal of its special autonomous status. Recently-held District Development Council (DDC) elections were successfully conducted in the union territory. And while government-ordered Internet shutdowns and lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic may have generated severe hardships, especially to students and healthcare workers, the situation is nowhere close to the "systematic genocide" of Kashmiris smear made by Pakistan and its Islamist backers.
Khan also accused India of "practicing...settler-colonialism" in Kashmir. The Indian government has "transferred Hindus from all over India and they have illegally settled them in the occupied territory," he alleged. This allegation ignores the very real exile of Kashmiri Hindus 30 years ago, and assumes that one ethnic group must always have primacy over another.
Advocates cite the legislation's potential benefits to long-term J&K residents from other states, including federal employees as well as to the industry and tourism sectors.
There are far more voices from Sound Vision's network that preach the same Islamist narrative.
In October, Mujahid—the show host and Sound Vision founder—interviewed convicted Pakistani lobbyist and spy Ghulam Nabi Fai. During the interview, Fai claimed "there has been siege in the occupied land [Jammu & Kashmir] for the last more than 70 years" and cited "impartial reports" that "more than 100,000 people have been killed within the past 29 years in Kashmir."
Soon after India's August 2019 action in Kashmir, Sound Vision's "Talking Points & Thinking Points" newsletter raised false alarms of an "imminent genocide of Kashmiris" and Muslims: "Kashmiri leaders are appealing to the world to stop the imminent genocide of Kashmiris...the so-called 'largest democracy in the world' ...has cancelled citizenship of four million Indian citizens, mostly Muslims. This reflects the early stages of a genocide in process."
Sound Vision's willingness to push a false and exaggerated rhetoric on Kashmir, and conflate it with much more troubling concerns in Myanmar and China, shows that its real agenda is to peddle a false narrative on Kashmir and lobby causes for support of the Muslim ummah, rather than "cultivate harmony among Muslims and their neighbors" as stated in its mission statement.
Abha Shankar is research director at the Washington, D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Cliff Smith is director of the Middle East Forum's Washington Project. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.