Controversial non-profit divides local South Asian community
A new non-profit organization that presents itself as an advocate against persecution has gotten into hot water on the Eastside for allegedly spreading anti-Muslim views.
Founded in March 2020, The Alliance for Persecuted Peoples Worldwide (APPWW) states it is a humanist group centered around helping persecuted individuals.
However, documented behavior from some of APPWW’s members and guest speakers have sparked opposition, especially in Redmond, to the organization’s active presence in the community.
According to several Redmond and Sammamish community members who have organized the opposition, recent APPWW board member Bhakti Joshi had sent out multiple Islamophobic tweets, including one that read: “India and US have to come together against Islam. It’s abt time educated ppl realise the horror of Islam.” Joshi has since removed her Twitter account.
Another APPWW board member, Archana Sunil, has re-tweeted anti-Muslim messages such as, “Just found out the black lives Matter is apart of the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Organization.” Her Twitter account has also since been deleted.
During an event on the political status of Kashmir on May 20, the organization invited Francois Gautier, an India-based French journalist and writer, as the guest speaker. Gautier has been known to espouse anti-Muslim views, including a tweet that read:
Opposition to APPWW heightened when the organization made a presentation to the Redmond City Council in March to seek closer partnership and potential sponsorship. Then in July, Redmond City Council President Tanika Padhye attended an APPWW-sponsored town hall that addressed issues of race.
These activities have since sparked a local backlash, with a coalition of activists forming to campaign against any involvement between the City of Redmond and APPWW. The coalition has authored a blog documenting alleged APPWW anti-Muslim bias, and hosted a virtual campaign planning event called “Hate in Our Backyard.”
Aneelah Afzali, the Executive Director of the Redmond-based American Muslim Empowerment Network and host of the event, was shocked to hear about the alleged APPWW transgressions against her faith.
“There are plenty of groups that promote anti-Muslim hate, but APPWW presented themselves as a group helping persecuted people while promoting such ugly hate,” Afzali said. “They deceived community leaders and officials, and masquerading [like this] is just so wrong.”
Social activist and Sammamish resident Priya Darshan, under an alias to avoid vitriol, said APPWW is an extension of the political climate in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism has spread to the Indian diaspora overseas.
“Groups in America…have been organizing since Modi’s been in power,” Darshan said. “They have a front of a charitable organization to feed the poor and hungry, and they want to recruit more people, more Indians, but their main goal is to propagate Hindu nationalism [and] more Islamophobia.”
Much criticism has been targeted at Redmond Council President Padhye for attending the July event. Padhye has since defended her attendance at the event during an August council meeting, saying she decided to attend because it addressed racial issues in the community, and her attendance did not constitute an endorsement. Padhye did not respond to an inquiry from the Sammamish Independent.
“I am really disappointed,” said Deepa Sivarajan, a member of South Asians Building Accountability & Healing and the Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans. “She [Padhye] didn’t really take any accountability for attending the event. Taken in good faith that she might not have known when attending, I’m disappointed after hearing all these organizations and people who have told her [they are] personally traumatized.”
Community members who oppose APPWW have called on the Redmond City Council to release a statement condemning APPWW and for Padhye to officially apologize for her attendance at the July event. These calls were echoed in a press conference on Sept. 8, when Redmond council members Varisha Khan, Steve Fields, and Jessica Forsythe joined the calls for the entire Council to pass a resolution condemning APPWW and anti-Muslim hate.
APPWW said in a statement that they were surprised to encounter this level of opposition to their organization, especially since all of their founders are new to civil rights activism.
“When we wanted to help people, we thought it would be straightforward, but doing good is more difficult than a corporate job,” an APPWW spokesperson said in a statement. “It’s harder to give back to society; there’s lots of vested interests, and if they feel threatened and things don’t go their way, [and the ideas] are too centrist and actually make a difference, people get very threatened.”
Since the numerous allegations surfaced, APPWW has released a press statement stating that both Joshi and Sunil tweeted in a personal capacity, and the views they expressed are not reflective of the organization as a whole. Joshi was removed from the board on May 28 and Sunil deleted her re-tweets and her Twitter account. The organization encourages anyone who questions their stances to contact them through their website, reiterating that they do not support the bigoted beliefs of those they have been associated with.
“I would say by their response that it is telling they tried to claim this was a smear campaign and they denied everything initially, but we have the receipts — the documentation, videos, screenshots, and more,” said Afzali of the American Muslim Empowerment Network. “Their denial couldn’t hold up, and so they changed their position a couple times and finally admitted some of the ugly anti-Muslim hate promoted by their leaders and co-founders. But they ignored all the other speakers promoting anti-Muslim hate that they supported or to whom they provided a platform.”