Zakir Naik is one smart cookie and that makes him dangerous.
His attacks on rationality and other religions are often so well concealed that mostly one does not see them coming.
A Salafi preacher who runs his shop not on vitriol or cursing as most other radical preachers do but on half lies, sophistry and spin; Zakir has cleverly built his message outreach in years gone by, to almost 100 million.
Having studied his methods in some detail here is a small list of techniques he routinely employs to spin his medieval radical doctrine:
1) Disapproves by disgrace: He doesn’t directly say another religion is bad but will use their mythology and gospel to prove that they are irrational. Discrediting someone else’s faith, while proving that your faith corrects that anomaly, thus being the only true faith, is religious one-upmanship.
2) Uses extensive analogical reasoning (citing analogies to prove his point) however in most cases those analogies are irrelevant, out of context and often stretched.
3) Taps into authority bias by quoting extensively from the holy Quran and Hadith. The interpretations thereafter are largely his.
4) Plugs into communities emotional hot spots : Frequently cites atrocities by US and Israel on Middle East and Palestine to shut down critical reasoning of his audiences.
5) Contrary narrative planting: justifies suicide attacks, OBL and other retrograde beliefs like death penalty to apostates, by classical propaganda technique of first starting from the opposite end or citing a contrarian view to gain credibility and then in conclusion arriving at his own pronouncements. Contrast this approach with stating your position and then providing evidence or reasoning for it.
With this said, question is, how should one deal with a sophisticated radical like him?
Easy and ready answer is simply ban him and his telecasts and which has been done in India since 2012. However the problems with banning anything are threefold:
1) It violates the right of free speech granted to common citizens. If you take away his right, by extension everyone’s right is imperiled. So unless proven in a court of law that they are hate speech meant to incite violence, this might not be a tenable solution.
2) Banning anything is a losing battle as you end up making it more popular and anyways everything is available on Internet. So both from logistical and efficacy perspective, it turns out to be a non starter.
3) If you ban him, he wins as values he represent warrant suppressing of opposite opinion, other faiths etc. In gaining a battle victory you concede the ideological war by being like him.
There are however two other solutions possible to counter his insidious rhetoric, namely create a rival narrative and discredit his person. This is how they work:
1) Create an alternate mainstream religious narrative which runs totally counter to his ideological position. For example : Start a Sufi channel with Sufi teachings of direct communion with Allah and broadcast it live to every household in India or create a channel which focuses on liberal values of Islam and holds frequent discourse on them. Invite various celebrity guests to those platforms to increase the reach of those messages.
2) Spoof Him : Humor is a great dodge and it beats him on his home turf as it uses the same language dexterity that he is a master of. Best part is that those jokes do not have to be funny but simply corny. Sample this for Zakir Jokes :
Girl: lo chai
Zakir: According to book 2, verse 19 line 1, locha hai locha is considered a very serious offence and all who indulge in lochas on earth will be denied hoor company in heavens.
Man: Zakir bhai, what is half of eight.
Zakir: See it all depends on how artfully you sever this eight. An inexperienced westerner will cut it horizontally in half and thus will be left with zero. However a seasoned faithful like me will cut it vertically and by gods grace will get a respectful 3.
The point being that to silence a narrative however pernicious, you do not have to ban it. You just have to bury it in surround sound and wait for it to die on its own.