What The Fatah

Tarek Fatah’s buffoonery on Zee News’ latest entertainment show is revolting to watch.

ByManisha Pande
What The Fatah
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Zee News has a new entertainment show that airs every Sunday night at 8 pm. It’s called Fatah Ka Fatwa (FTF). And, no, calling it an “entertainment show” is not my way of panning it (patience, dear reader).

That is in fact how the channel describes the 30-minute show whose sole purpose appears to be Islam-bashing.

This programme has been prepared with the express purpose of entertainment. The beliefs, views, comments, view or statement in this programme belong entirely to the host, guests, speakers and participants. The programme does not intend to hurt the sentiments of any person, gender, religion, race, society or organisation. This channel does not take any responsibility of the statements and does not verify any facts presented]

On the face of it, the above caveat comes across as an honest attempt by Zee News to inform its viewers that it occasionally dabbles in entertainment despite purporting to be a news channel. But save the applause.

Zee News is owned by Essel Group, which offers several general entertainment channels under the Zee Entertainment umbrella. If the idea behind FTF is to entertain viewers, why not do it through Zee TV as opposed to Zee News?

It isn’t as though no other news channel has segments of entertainment in its programming. For instance, NDTV had Gustakhi Maaf and CNN-News 18 has The Week That Wasn’t. Most of these interventions are spoofs and satire that critique the news and newsmakers. FTF, despite Fatah’s buffoonery, is not about having a laugh. It hints at a cynical exploitation of the news space because there is an agenda it’s pushing.

Even as the disclaimer makes it crystal clear that Zee News does not vouch for any “facts” presented in the show, in the three episodes aired so fair, its hosts – one of them a star Zee News anchor – have stressed their allegiance to nothing but facts.

Journalist Rohit Sardana introduced Fatah in the first episode and stated this show would be based on logic and facts. “Tarksheel soch banane main hum aapke saathi banege…tathyon aur tarkon ke aadhar par…sahi aur vajib baat aap tak pahunchye jaegi (We will be your companions in shaping your thinking to be logical…we will present correct and justified information to you based on logic and facts),” he said.

However, Fatah’s idea of rational argument is to heckle his panellists with banal generalisations cloaked as tough questions: Why are Muslims writing letters to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Do you love Aurangzeb and consider him your hero? Why don’t you praise Dara Shikoh enough? Why did you elect Jinnah? (That’s right. In the last episode, Fatah actually blamed two gentlemen from Mumbai – a Mufti and an Islamic scholar – for electing Jinnah from the city in the 1920s in 2017.)

Fatah’s sole aim seems to be to somehow get his panellists to break down and apologise for the sins of every Muslim to have walked the face of planet earth – from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to Deoband, from the middle ages to the Mughal era to present day, from Timur to Aurangzeb to Ghazni.

There’s no coherence of thought, just petulance. It’s almost as though every Muslim owes Fatah because once upon a time, an Islamic regime rejected him.

The case for reform

In the first episode, Fatah declared himself to be a “tarrakki-pasand” Muslim, or a progressive Muslim. Yet he never gives enough space to reformist voices that offer more liberal interpretations of the Quran.

In the latest episode, one of the panellists associated with Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan said it was incorrect to label anyone a “kaafir”, which loosely translates to a non-believer but literally applies to someone who hides the truth. Another panellist associated with National Commission for Women offered a present-day context to the word. According to her, someone who does not believe in humanity is a kaafir. Fatah dismissed these thoughts by pointing at the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on Salman Rushdie. By the end of the show, he had literally cornered the two women into silence because they did not conform to his hackneyed worldview.

Disturbingly, in episode two – which is the sanest episode by far — while discussing the practice of wearing burqa, Fatah invited a particularly obnoxious maulana as a panellist. This man went on to threaten to beat one of the women panellists because she took a jibe at him. Fatah’s ‘progressive’ response? A meek disapproval while urging the maulana to calm down. No outrage, no demand that the maulana apologise and certainly no acknowledgement of the fact that a man openly declared he’d beat a woman on national television. (Later in the show, he cracks a joke on the maulana asking him to pick up the soti [stick].)

Fatah’s credentials for being on news panels and for moderating this show are that he has suffered the intolerant side of Islam first-hand. He feels let down by Pakistan for harbouring terrorism and extremists ideologies – a country where he was born and where he was imprisoned twice while he worked as a journalist. He has also stated that he’s received death threats for his views on Islam. Fatah seems to have little patience with religious insularity and positions himself as someone who wants to see reform in Islam. Yet, as far as he is concerned, all practicing (devout) Muslims are as good as followers of Osama bin Laden. And therein lies his appeal to Zee News, a channel that often caricaturises the community and spreads dubious propaganda against it. FTF is just another weapon in its arsenal to target Muslims and Islam.

So much for entertainment.

The author can be contacted at manisha.pande1110@gmail.com and on Twitter @MnshaP


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