Tarek Fatah was born in Pakistan and recently passed away in Toronto, Canada. I knew him since my arrival in Canada as an immigrant in 2002. He was the mentor, guide, and philosopher of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), established in Toronto not long after 9/11 in December 2001. The MCC aims at establishing a “progressive, liberal, pluralistic, democratic, and secular society where everyone has the freedom of religion” Under liberal and secular Tarek Fatah’s leadership (who, to the best of my knowledge, never publicly renounced his faith in Islam), the MCC almost singlehandedly championed the cause of separation of religion and state in all matters of public policy.
The MCC came to the limelight for opposing the implementation of Shariah as a civil code for Muslims in Canada during 2003 and 2006. This writer was an active supporter of the MCC and was friends with Tarek Fatah and other MCC members in Toronto. The MCC also supported same-sex marriage law in Canada, which some members, including myself, had serious reservations about.
Nevertheless, I remained a staunch supporter of the MCC for its stubborn opposition to Shariah law and every form of intolerance and terrorism in any name or form, including Islamist terrorism. I have also had no problem with having Muslim prayer sessions with women leading the prayer. I also had a very cordial relationship with Tarek Fatah. So much so that I agreed to write (and wrote) an endorsement of his excellent book on the mythical concept of an “Islamic State” (years before the emergence of ISIS in the 2010s). And I was very fond of Tarek Fatah and the MCC for their unambiguous support for the Palestinians and the Two-State Formula for the sake of justice and peace. In 2006, the MCC supported the boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. It even compared Israeli policies to South African apartheid. Thus, my association with Tarek Fatah and the MCC had everything to do with my deep commitment to liberal democracy, separation of state and religion, independent Palestine, and a world free of injustice, terrorism, and anarchy, in any name or form.
However, soon our honeymoon was over in 2006 during the short Israel-Lebanon War. Tarek Fatah and some MCC leaders overreacted at Canadian Muslims’ (including some MCC members) use of Hezbollah and Hamas flags and carrying Sheikh Nasrallah’s (the Hezbollah leader) and Ahmadinejad’s (the then President of Iran) pictures in public rallies in Canada. Fatah and his close associates strongly believed that the use of such flags, banners, and pictures amounted to supporting Islamist extremism and terror. This led to the formal split of the MCC in 2007. By 2009, Tarek Fatah and MCC had lost ground among conservative Canadian Muslims for their strong opposition to the hijab, burqa, and niqab. And I lost all contacts with Tarek Fatah, the MCC, and other leading members of the outfit.
Now, why do I call him “enigmatic”? I call him enigmatic because, as a Pakistani and Muslim by birth, he decried both his Pakistani and Muslim identities, and despite identifying himself as a Muslim, he said very nasty things about Islam and its adherents. About a decade before his death, he publicly asserted innumerable times that he would have loved to be Indian and Hindu by birth. In July 2002, he specified this in a YouTube video interview conducted from India. He said if his second arrival in this world could be possible, he would have liked to be born into a Hindu family in Bhopal. Although during the years of my direct and face-to-face interaction with him, I never heard him renouncing his faith in Islam, of late, in several YouTube interviews, he has publicly portrayed Islam as a violent religion and cited a verse from Surah Tauba in the Qur’an implying that Islam justified slaughtering non-Muslims right and left only because of their lack of faith in Islam. He frequently appeared on YouTube video shows, mostly as a guest speaker/interviewee in pro-Hindutva channels from India. According to one Indian talk-show host, he appeared 76 times on their channel up to July 2022.
After his first visit to his cherished homeland, India, in 2013, Tarek Fatah simply turned himself into a diehard Hindutva activist. He’s extremely popular in India. So much so that, as it appears from a picture, he received an award from Yogi Adityanath, the controversial and rabidly pro-Hindutva Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. It’s simply unbelievable that a self-proclaimed Marxist human rights activist would accept a gift from Adityanath, who has been a loyal follower of Modi and a rabid Hindu extremist himself. Interestingly, Fatah not only remained silent about the mass slaughter of Muslims in India from Ayodhya to Gujarat and what preceded and followed those massacres by Hindu extremists, but he also publicly lambasted the BJP government and Hindus in general for retaining the names of places and monuments in India named after Muslim rulers and dynasties, and for tolerating Muslims in their country. He publicly asserted innumerable times that Babar demolished a temple to build the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and that all the Muslim rulers (except Akbar), including Aurangzeb, demolished Hindu temples to build mosques, and killed and persecuted Hindus.
The way Tarek Fatah spewed venomous hatred against Islam and Muslims is unbelievable. One wonders how a “Marxist human rights activist” could be so devoid of decency and respect for people’s faith and culture and could be so ignorant and biased about well-established historical facts. His bias against everything Islamic and Muslim was complete. He concocted history and gave a totally distorted image of Islamic scripture, which, to my knowledge, very few die-hard Hindu fanatics have ever been able to do. He simply outperformed most Hindu nationalists, writers, and activists. He even portrayed Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as a bigot and enemy of Hindus. He said Azad had opposed the partition only to keep the Indian Muslims together to overpower the Hindus in united India. He publicly asserted that the Indian Muslims were descendants of foreign invaders who should be sent off to Pakistan. Tarek Fatah simply outperformed Bankim Chandra, Rajnath Basu, Sarat Chatterjee, V.D. Savarkar, Swami Shradhanand, Dayanand Saraswati, K.B. Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar, Nathuram Godse, and definitely Narendra Modi.
In sum, I’m not sure if he said all the nasty things about Islam, Muslims, and Pakistan out of sheer ignorance, prejudice, conviction, or for handsome remuneration from his Indian handlers in league with the Hindu fascist regime of Narendra Modi! Nevertheless, he’s an enigma to me. Although I agree with him that while Muhammad bin Qasim, Sultan Mahmud, Nadir Shah, and Ahmad Shah Abdali were invaders and plunderers, Muhammad Ghauri, Ikhtiar Khalji, and Zahiruddin Babar were empire builders, We know imperialists throughout history—from Alexander to Robert Clive and Napoleon—were never known as peacemakers or non-violent people. I may condone Tarek Fatah’s inability to absorb the nuances and intricacies of history, humanities, religion, and social sciences as he wasn’t a trained historian or social scientist but a science graduate from Karachi University who started his career as an employee at the Pakistan Television in Karachi and then worked as a car salesman in Saudi Arabia before migrating to Canada. Then again, it’s impossible to condone his prejudice-induced hate crime against Muslims in general and those of India and Pakistan in particular, who, by the way, have been among the most marginalised victims of poverty and bad governance for centuries.
Taj Hashmi, Ph.D., FRAS is a historian-cum-cultural anthropologist, and is a retired professor of Security Studies at the APCSS, US. He has written several books and hundreds of journal articles, and newspaper op-eds. As an analyst of current affairs, and a human rights activist he regularly appears on talk shows about Bangladesh, South Asia, and World affairs. His latest book, Fifty Years of Bangladesh, 1971-2021: Crises of Culture, Development, Governance, and Identity, was published by Palgrave-Macmillan in May 2022.