The India-Pakistan cricket match in the T20 World Cup was mired with controversies even before it began. After a dismal performance by the Indian team led to a 10 wicket loss, social media was awash with claims that Indian bowler Mohammad Shami is being blamed for the loss, ‘because he is a Muslim’.
Multiple reports, op-eds and social media posts poured in support of cricketer Mohammed Shami and shamed those who attacked him.
There was so much hype for two days that several players, including Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Lakshman, Virendra Sehwag and others, came forward in support of Shami. Unknown to the origin of the attack, the posts by these celebrated players gave a push to the propaganda to push the narrative that there is intolerance in India.
Just at the time when anti-India elements were being called out on social media for celebrating Pakistan’s win, there were multiple tweets going around that Md Shami is being abused by some Indians. However, it is still a mystery for many as not many anti-Shami tweets or social media posts were visible. Meaning, there were only a few handles, mostly anon trolls, that were indulged in the hateful comments against Shami.
Many social media users even pointed out that they have not seen a single post abusing Shami but have seen hundreds of posts condemning the abuse.
Reports and OpIndia’s own investigation revealed shocking details of how the attack was designed and executed from the neighbouring country Pakistan. Republic News had pointed that a Twitter user Alitaza45896998 posted 28 abusive comments against Shami on Twitter.
The now-deleted account was following 15 Pakistani accounts.
Several accounts were created on Instagram and Twitter for the sole purpose of attacking Shami. Once the propaganda was pushed to the point support messages started to pour in, these accounts disappeared from social media platforms. Journalists, activists, intellectuals etc., saw an opportunity in it and pushed their own agendas claiming that Indian ‘Hindu nationalists’ are abusing Shami, a Muslim player, and blaming him for India’s loss.
Bureau Chief, NDTV, Saurabh Gupta, said, “Communal behaviour is when one player is subjected to the worst form of abuses because the team lost. Mohammed Shami is a performing cricketer and is as responsible as any other member of the team for the loss. But the worst abuses are directed at him because of his religion.”
CEDA Ashoka editor Ankur Bharadwaj said, “Perhaps American Football players will take the knee in solidarity with Shami.”
Writer Harneet Singh tagged cricketer Virat Kohli and said, “Come on, Virat Kohli. Stand by your teammate Mohd Shami. Please make a statement of support for him & put an end to this bigotry for good. You are our Captain. Time to be a Leader now.”
Journalist Purva Chitnis said, “The ugly communal head of hyper-nationalist cricket fans came out in the vilest manner as expected. Virat Kohli and the team should publicly speak up and stand firm behind #Shami. Will they or won’t they is the question…”
Alleged journalist Rana Ayyub said, “The Islamophobic hate against #shami with aspersions on his patriotism and his commitment to the country. If this and the state enabled hatred against Indian minorities is not worth taking a knee, I don’t know what is.”
Ayyub saw it as a chance to throw an op-ed in which she wrote, “Messages to and about Shami on social media were Indian bigotry at its worst: He was hounded, humiliated, and asked if he had sold his soul to Pakistan. Some asked if he deliberately gave runs to the Pakistani team; others accused him of being a traitor and an anti-national. The invective flooded his social media.”
The Print’s Nikhil Rampal said, “Neeraj Chopra had made a 2-minute video keeping the side of Pakistan’s player, also gave the message of brotherhood in sports. Shami is still ours. What is being proved with that kneeling hypocrisy?”
Mojo’s Barkha Dutt wrote, “Is the Indian cricket team going to take a gratuitous knee for Black Lives Matter, entirely disconnected from the Indian reality, but stay silent on the bigoted online attacks against Mohd Shami? We expect better.”
She also quickly wrote an op-ed for WaPo in which she said, “Toxic, brazenly Islamophobic comments were left on his (Shami’s) Instagram page, suggesting that he was a traitor, one who could take the next flight out to Pakistan. Shami was singled out in a different way than other players, and the language used for him was directly related to his being Muslim. In fact, he is the only Muslim on the team’s playing lineup for this tournament — a fact that would have been irrelevant had the hate directed at him online not underscored his religion.”
Comments abusing Shami were part of a coordinated plan?
A Twitter User Counter-Propaganda Division did detailed research on how Pakistan’s propaganda against India was pushed by coordinated social media posts abusing Shami. It said the whole “Shami is getting abused” propaganda started around the time when a Twitter user ‘vaikivannavan’ published screenshots of people allegedly abusing Shami. The account no longer exists.
Classic Bollywood Story : Muslim player blamed for loss, asked to prove loyalty to country!— Counter Propaganda Division (@CounterDivision) October 26, 2021
Media: Got the spice
Opposition: Got the Issue
Team India: Emotionally Bruised
INDIA: Failed to discern the psy war again.
It all began when a Twitter handle @vaikivannavan
Posted this 👇 pic.twitter.com/yHSyJ410oy
The group further pointed out who and how the thread on ‘Shami getting shamed’ was promoted on social media including a thread by Aj Jazeera’s host Sana Saeed.
Scene 2: USEFUL IDIOTS!— Counter Propaganda Division (@CounterDivision) October 26, 2021
Now enter the “useful idiots” who helped in turning the seemingly irrelevant bot posts into a national sentiment.. (please note that they all are using the same screenshots)
Note: Al Jazeera Producer @SanaSaeed doing a thread on it. pic.twitter.com/7GAGlqPcAN
Aljazeera’s Sana Saeed did a thread quoting the tweet. She said, “Mohammad Shami is an Indian cricketer; a bowler. These are comments on his IG right now, with people claiming he took money from Pakistan that he was playing for Pakistan and helped India lose because he is a Muslim.”
It’s interesting how one single tweet was promoted extensively by Pakistani Twitter users.
Scene 5: The Vultures Enter— Counter Propaganda Division (@CounterDivision) October 26, 2021
The Social media cells of Pakistan were waiting for this update.
The classic amplification was done from here on…
ONE Tweet…Yes! JUST ONE TWEET and a group of “useful idiots” gave them the necessary canon fodder. pic.twitter.com/mX3C4JezNk
Media also played a role in spreading the propaganda. Media houses including Scroll, Dawn, Telegraph and several other published reports on how Shami was shamed.
Finally, 8 Abusive Insta Posts from unknown (most likely) bot handles made it to International News of online harassment hurled at a Muslim cricketer in India..— Counter Propaganda Division (@CounterDivision) October 26, 2021
Not a single outlet has taken pains to give any other evidence of the abuses pic.twitter.com/mqzQpb0cY8
The reality is, Shami is one of the most loved Indian cricketers and his fans will keep loving him for his performance. Moreover, the Indian team lost to Pakistan by a massive 10-wickets. Most Indians, who are cricket fans by default, know well that it was a multi-level failure by the team and blaming one bowler for it is non-sensical.
Moreover, on multiple occasions, cricketer Mohammad Shami has been at the receiving end of hateful, hurtful comments for sharing images of his family. Islamists on social media had shamed Shami for ‘not making his wife wear hijab’ and allowing his daughter to wear ‘Hindu’ dresses’. The concern and outrage that the ‘liberals’ are showing for Shami now were strangely absent on those occasions. No international op-eds were written about it either.