As the dust around the Dhaka tragedy settles, the public is looking for someone to point the finger at, and Zakir Naik is quickly becoming the primary target. Reportedly, some of the terrorists involved in the attack were avid supporters, which has put the less-than-credible televangelist in hot water. Zakir Naik can be bigoted and often propagates views that advocates the supremacy of Islam over other religions and these can often be perceived as extremist or radical by all those who are not Muslims. But the truth is that televangelism as a whole either follows this line, or adheres to little or no moral standards when asking for donations (in the case of many Christian televangelists in the US). The claims made within often have nothing to do with the religion they are associated with.

Preachers, clerics and holy men of all faiths use television to spread their message across the globe, and often, their religious acumen remains unquestioned. These shows are unscripted for the most part, and have no restrictions in terms of the subjects discussed, or the discussions that ensue after. Reportedly, among his speeches, there is a quote of Zakir Naik that can definitely be perceived as inciting violence, when he states, “Every Muslim should be a terrorist”. He goes on to clarify this, and maintains that this quote was taken out of context, because he meant that all Muslims should only be terrorists against “anti-social elements” and should not harm innocent people, but does he not realise the gravity of his own statements?

A man with millions of supporters around the world, who look to him for guidance in all matters religion, really expects his followers to make such decisions, and act as judge, jury and executioner against whoever they see as ‘anti-social’? People who need a leader such as him can obviously not make such decisions unilaterally, so leaving the decision of what is good and evil in absolute terms up to them is naturally going to cause problems.

It is important to not let the debate surrounding the Dhaka attacks digress and move towards Zakir Naik and the problems of televangelism. Yes, these clerics need to be brought into line, and the ones that incite their supports to commit acts of violence should not only be taken off the air, but should also face criminal charges. But the fact that educated youths from middle-class backgrounds conducted the attack that led to over twenty deaths cannot be attributed to Zakir Naik alone. This trend has been seen in Pakistan too, particularly in the case of the Safoora Goth carnage, where former students of IBA were involved. The rising online footprint of terrorist organisations across the world is just as much to blame, as are our local governments for (in the case of Bangladesh) conflating the issue of extremism with nationalism or (in our case) neglecting to deal with the issue at all, until thousands of our children have died as a result of looking the other way.