News and Commentary

LITWIN: Islamists Are Exploiting The Conflict In Kashmir
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against India in Karachi on August 22, 2019, as they condemn India's decision to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special autonomy and impose a lockdown two weeks ago. - Pressure is mounting on Pakistan to contain militants itching for a fight with arch-nemesis India amid growing calls for action in its escalating dispute with New Delhi over Kashmir

India’s recent revocation of Kashmir’s autonomous status, and its imposition of a security lockdown, is an aggressive move in a long-running and complex conflict. Voices in support and opposition to the move have been loud and heated. But whether or not one agrees with the takeover itself, or the way it is being handled, it is worrying that opposition to the move in the U.S. has been orchestrated and dominated by Islamist groups.

Since August 6th, several protests worldwide have been coordinated by Stand With Kashmir, whose website was first registered in March of this year and which has not disclosed the identity of its officers or backers. But at least some of the protests have heavy Islamist involvement. The August 9th protest in New York lists several co-organizers and sponsors, among them the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA).

MAS is the American branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; ICNA is the American branch of the South Asian extremist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) (Earlier this year, India banned JI from Kashmir for five years for supporting terrorism, in the wake of a suicide bombing that killed 42). Both of these groups have been involved in anti-India Kashmiri partisanship for years, coordinating with known agents of the Pakistani intelligence service ISI.

On August 16th, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a lobbying umbrella group of Islamist organizations, held a D.C. rally for Kashmir in front of the Indian embassy. The rally was cosponsored by ICNA and MAS, along with the extremist mosque Dar al-Hijrah and the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC). WikiLeaks emails revealed that TASC coordinates closely with regime figures from the authoritarian Turkish government.

Other “Stand With Kashmir” protests have not listed their cosponsors, but in several cases they have been attended by Islamist groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Palestine Committee.” CAIR publicized the emergency protest in Washington, D.C. on August 6th, during which CAIR co-founder Nihad Awad spoke; CAIR and ICNA were also among the attendees of an August 12th rally in Sacramento.

It is worth noting that CAIR receives much of its funding from the government of Qatar (in addition to coordinating closely with Turkey). This matters because Qatari propaganda organs Al Jazeera and Middle-East Eye have been relentlessly opposed to the Kashmir takeover; and it seems that CAIR and the other Islamists dependent on Qatari money are following their patron’s lead.

The heavy influence of Islamism may be responsible for a growing narrative, pushed by Qatari journalists and Islamist activists, that the Kashmir takeover is “just like” Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The Middle East Eye claimed that “India’s annexation of Kashmir is straight out of the Israeli playbook”; and the terrorism-linked Palestinian BDS National Committee organized protests by Palestinians and claimed that India was using Israeli weapons that were “field-tested on Palestinian bodies.” CAIR-Los Angeles director Hussam Ayloush tweeted that “Kashmir and Palestine share the struggle for self determination [sic] against colonial occupation.”

Notably, in images published by Stand with Kashmir, attendees are asked to “stand up against” several offenses, including “settler colonialism.” This is apparently a reference to the Indian government’s plan to resettle some of the hundreds of thousands of Hindus who have been driven out of Kashmir by violence since 1989. But Palestinian and Islamist activists are repeatedly using such language to connect Kashmir to the Palestinian conflict, and vice versa; among the sponsors of several of the protests are the radical groups Palestinian Youth Movement and Adalah.

Many supporters of the Kashmiris have recently begun replacing their social media profile pictures with red dots, or entirely red images, to show solidarity. This was begun by Stand With Kashmir, and the use of red images and clothing is repeatedly encouraged by them in their communications. SWK volunteers told Al Jazeera that the red symbolizes “the resistance of the Kashmiri people, their blood.” How many concerned supporters of Kashmir realize that their wearing red clothing or displaying red images is an unwitting endorsement of violence, the consequences of which will fall on the Kashmiris themselves?

Whatever one’s views on the Kashmir crisis, we must all be alert to the ways in which it is being exploited by extremists. The Kashmiri situation is far too serious for our views to be distorted by extremism and foreign meddling.

Oren Litwin is associate director of the Islamism in Politics project of the Middle East Forum.

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