London-based chef Atul Kochhar is in a soup over anti-Islam remarks he made regarding the portrayal of a Hindu character as a “terrorist” in an American drama series.
The Michelin-star chef had tweeted: “Hindus have been terrorised by Islam for over 2000 years”. He later deleted his tweet, but it had already sparked online outrage and a call to boycott his restaurants.
Social media users accused Kochhar of fanning bigotry, following which, American hotel chain JW Marriott on Wednesday decided to terminate his contract to operate a restaurant at their Marquis Hotel property in Dubai.
Muslims are often shown as terrorists, underworld dons or human traffickers. The number of such shows and movies are so large that Muslims have even stopped protesting
Aditya Menon, Indian journalist
“Following the recent comments made by Chef Atul Kochhar, we have taken the decision to end our agreement with him,” Bill Keffer, general manager of JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.
A London-based restaurant finder app, Halal Gems, removed Kochhar’s restaurant from its listings.
Kochhar, a British citizen, owns an Indian restaurant, Benares, in London’s Mayfair. He also runs two restaurants in the Indian city of Mumbai.
‘Insensitive and wrong’
The celebrity chef said the decision by the Marriott group was “deeply upsetting”.
“The decision by JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is deeply upsetting, however I fully accept the great pain I have caused and the difficult position the hotel has been put in… I hope my friends and well-wishers in Dubai will forgive me and continue to support me in the future,” Kochhar told Al Jazeera via email.
In an apology, now pinned to his Twitter profile, he said his tweets “were insensitive and wrong”.
Not everyone was convinced by his apologies. Some, like author Anna Vetticad, called it “the most unmeant apology ever used”.
Iman Atta, the director of UK-based anti-Muslim hate monitoring service, Tell MAMA, said: “some people reflexively assume that if a celebrity is saying it, it is alright”.
“This mainstreaming creates division and resentment when some people translate it into online and street-based anti-Muslim hatred,” Atta told Al Jazeera.
Kochhar walked into storms of protest and praise from different sections for his comments about Islam.
His tweet had been in reaction to a controversy around an American Broadcasting Company (ABC) show, Quantico, where an episode showed a Hindu nationalist plotting a bombing in New York while the investigators were on a false trail.
The decision by JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is deeply upsetting, however I fully accept the great pain I have caused and the difficult position the hotel has been put in…
Atul Kochhar, chef
India’s right-wing Hindu nationalists, who propelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power, led the backlash against the ABC show.
Kochhar had also slammed Priyanka Chopra, the Indian lead actor of the ABC series.
“It’s sad to see that you have not respected the sentiments of Hindus who have been terrorised by Islam over 2000 years. Shame on you,” he tweeted on 10 June.
While Hindu nationalists forced ABC to apologise for the plotline, they also came to the defence of Kochhar, who promptly became a “martyr” for India’s right wing.
In its Quantico apology, broadcaster ABC said it had veered into a “complex political issue”. But many commentators pointed out that similar nuance about “Islam and terrorism” has been missing from Hollywood and Bollywood content.
“They are guilty of the worst kind of anti-Muslim content. Terms like ‘jihad’ and ‘kafir’ are branded about without any knowledge or context,” Aditya Menon, editor at Catch News, told Al Jazeera.
“Muslims are often shown as terrorists, underworld dons or human traffickers. The number of such shows and movies are so large that Muslims have even stopped protesting.
“It is unfortunate that Muslims never got any such apology despite being vilified much more extensively. Perhaps ABC had to do it because of the possible threat Quantico’s lead actor Priyanka Chopra would have faced from Hindutva radicals in India,” he added.
Media reports suggest Kochhar could also face legal action in Dubai where online comments found to be spreading hate, especially in connection with Islam and Muslims are a criminal offence.
Many social media users in India pointed out that Kochhar’s tweet promoted “anti-Muslim bigotry” at a time when India’s Hindu nationalists ran hate campaigns against Muslims.
A former writer of Quantico, Sharbari Zohra Ahmed, a Bangladeshi American Muslim, was trolled by Hindu nationalists and threatened with rape and violence.
Chopra was also forced to offer an apology for hurting “some sentiments”.
“I sincerely apologise. I’m a proud Indian and that will never change,” she tweeted.
Need for all Hindus to SUPPORT this restaurent owner/renowned Chef @atulkochhar in Marriott in UAE for being hounded for a comment of him on RoP atrocities in India in the past-Some linked his employers in reply–we MUST hlp him @Swamy39 @sgurumurthy @jgopikrishnan70 RT
— RVAIDYA2000 (@rvaidya2000) June 11, 2018
In 2016, Hindu nationalists forced Indian online retail company Snapdeal to drop Bollywood actor Aamir Khan as its ambassador after backlash over his comments on rising intolerance in the country.
Kochhar is now facing online criticism from across the world, and even some calls to boycott his restaurant, Benares, in London.
The celebrity chef who has 55,000 followers on Twitter said in his apology that it was an “error made in the heat of the moment”.
But a cursory check through his Twitter timeline shows he has “liked” tweets by Indian right-wingers who have run dog-whistle campaigns against Muslims.
But not everybody agreed with calls to boycott Kochhar.
Some like UK-based journalist Sunny Hundal argued it would create an “arms race of outrage”.
“The hate feeds on each other. Hindu mobs will increasingly look for any Muslim to boycott, and vice versa. It won’t end well if we keep feeding this,” Hundal said.