Today in Islamophobia

A daily list of headlines about Islamophobia
compiled by the Bridge Initiative

Each day, the Bridge Initiative aims to bring you the news you need to know about Islamophobia. This resource will be updated every weekday at approximately 11:00 AM EST.

Today in Islamophobia Newsletter

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22 Dec 2023

Today in Islamophobia: In Canada, there’s a rising trend of employees and students being fired, suspended, or facing calls for them to not be hired based on their publicly stated pro-Palestine stance, meanwhile in the United Kingdom, a primary school in London wrote a warning to the parents of children who wore flags and stickers in support of Palestine that they risked being referred to the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism programme, and in the United States, a group of Democrats in Congress is calling on the Biden administration to review the redress process for removing people from the federal government’s terrorist watchlist. Our recommended read of the day is an interview by Al Jazeera featuring Bridge Initiative Director, Dr. John L. Esposito, who discusses Islamophobia in the context of Israel’s war in Gaza and how western media has played a major role in promoting anti-Muslim tropes that dehumanize billions of Muslims worldwide. This and more below:


‘Seen as less human’: Why has Islamophobia surged amid Israel’s Gaza war? | Recommended Read

Hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim in the United Kingdom are up by 140 percent compared with this time last year, according to British police. In the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, said it had received 2,171 complaints of Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias since October 7, a 172 percent increase since the previous year. Here, in conversation with Al Jazeera, John L Esposito, author of more than 50 books – including Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (2011) – explains what Islamophobia is, and how Israel’s war on Gaza has led to an explosion in incidents. Al Jazeera: You’ve mentioned the media. What role does it play? John Esposito: I’d say it’s hugely responsible for the rise in Islamophobia. The media has always cared about headlines. There’s a famous line that I often quote, “If it bleeds, it leads”, and news organisations’ focusing reporting on “terrorist” attacks has been exploited by far-right political and religious leaders and media commentators who are quick to speak out about Islam and Muslims, without checks or balances. A great example of it is in the current war. Initial reports that were coming out of Israel mentioned the beheading of babies. [US] President [Joe] Biden withdrew his statement confirming its falsehood the day after, but by that point, the story had already been repeated countless times on mainstream media and social media. I was told when I first came to Washington, “Remember, if you throw it up against the wall three times, it’ll stick”, and you know that’s what’s happened here. An unverified piece of news is repeated more than three times, and by the time it’s retracted, it’s already stuck in people’s heads, feeding into this Islamophobic narrative of who these people are and what they are capable of doing. read the complete article

Palestine, Islamophobia and the policing of solidarity

The current wave of international solidarity with Palestine has faced significant backlash in Western nations primarily from politicians and media outlets, but also from within institutions. In the United States, for instance, there are countless reports of individuals being fired from their jobs for publicly expressing sentiments of solidarity with Palestinians and particularly those under siege in Gaza. On US college campuses, doxxing of students expressing sympathy towards Palestinians using billboards attached to trucks has been employed as a technique to publicly name and shame individuals. One purpose of such tactics is to inform future employers not to hire these students but more chillingly it is a strategy used to dissuade and silence others from taking such principled action. This silencing can often be violent, as demonstrated by the recent shooting of three Palestinian male students in Vermont, who were allegedly targeted for wearing keffiyehs. For many Muslims and Arabs, this overpolicing of resistance and solidarity efforts is reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror, in which new legislation was urgently drafted to thwart activities deemed to be ‘extremist’ in nature, such as the Prevent Duty in the UK. We argue that at its core, there are several overlaps between the War on Terror and the current criminalization of pro-Palestinian activists, primarily through their Islamophobic infrastructures. We see Islamophobia as an extension of racism, which is both structural and institutional in its reach and its implications. We see how media reports of Gaza and Palestinians, for example, have contributed to their inhumanity, with refusals, for example, to acknowledge that thousands of Palestinians have been murdered, but rather, have just ‘died’. Our focus is on the way in which counter-terror legislation in the UK, primarily the Prevent Duty, has been used to securitize and silence activists in recent weeks, and permitted the spread of Islamophobia. As we seek to show, the selective usage of counter-terror legislation on pro-Palestinian protestors and activists is part of a much wider trend of criminalizing dissent, felt significantly by racialized Muslims and Arabs in the post-9/11 era. read the complete article

UN Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide and Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion decry rising antisemitism and Islamophobia around the world

“All stakeholders, including States, media, social media and technology companies, and universities should respond promptly to sustained and widespread reports of incidents reflecting Antisemitic and Islamophobic hatred in countries around the world in a manner consistent with international human rights law. Acts of harassment, intimidation, violence and incitement based on religion or belief across the world, which have been sharply rising in recent months and have spiked to alarming levels in recent weeks, have shocked our conscience and created a climate of fear and deep distrust across many societies. In some countries, national authorities and civil society organisations have reported a dramatic increase in Islamophobic and Antisemitic incidents. Other religious minority communities are also experiencing acute and unprecedented insecurity. Mosques, synagogues, other places of worship and cemeteries have been attacked, desecrated, and vandalised in many countries; so too have schools, cultural centres, and memorials; even private homes and properties belonging to Jews and Muslims; whilst other religious and belief communities too have not been spared. read the complete article

United States

Democrats in Congress call for action on flaws in terrorist watchlist

A group of Democrats in Congress is calling on the Biden administration to review the redress process for removing people from the federal government's terrorist watchlist over concerns about due process and the list's reliability, and to provide greater transparency to the public. The letter, sent by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a dozen other lawmakers who serve on relevant committees, follows CBS News reporting and a CBS Reports documentary about the huge increase in the number of individuals on the terrorist watchlist, including many Americans who say they shouldn't be there but can't get themselves removed. This year marks 20 years since the creation of the watchlist, but the same pervasive due process and civil rights critiques that were raised in the first years of the watchlist persist. On Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee published a report that called for a review of the watchlist enterprise, stating that oversight was "disjointed," redress options are "insufficient" and screening is uncoordinated, jeopardizing its functionality to safeguard against terrorist attacks. "We write to request information about the status of and standards for the Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS, or 'terrorist watchlist'), the redress process for seeking removal from the dataset, and any steps your agencies are taking to address anti-Muslim discrimination stemming from the watchlist system," the Democrats wrote. "We have ongoing concerns about the reliability of the list and the extent to which due process and civil rights principles are adhered to in the course of placing and retaining individuals on the list." read the complete article

It is down to all of us to fight Islamophobia

Being raised Muslim in the United States comes with many challenges. We often strive for acceptance among peers and to be seen as loving human beings. Even though the population of Muslim-Americans has grown and mosques are more prevalent, there are underlying traumas of being Muslim in America, which have only intensified and reignited since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. For the longest time, I saw my life in two parts: pre and post-September 11, 2001. Even before 9/11, I had the impression few people really understood what Islam and being a Muslim was. After those tragic events, terrorism, and violence became inextricably tied to being Muslim in the eyes of the public. I was in my first few weeks of attending Berlin High School when the attack on 9/11 occurred. My family moved to a neighboring town, and I was already feeling like an alien dropped onto a foreign land. A couple hours after the attack, one of my teachers – without hesitation or even considering there may be Muslims in her class – theorized that the attack had to be perpetrated by Muslims. I didn’t know a soul at the school and had no one to turn to. I didn’t feel safe speaking up. The only solace I found was at my mosque. We prayed and cried together. Cried for our fellow Americans who died that day, but also for our Muslim community who were targeted as scapegoats. I am saddened to witness history repeated in how Muslims, especially young Muslims, are viewed, as the Israel-Hamas war rages on and the devastating loss of unarmed Palestinian civilians rises. read the complete article

Impolite Society

When it surfaced that he was a former diplomat who had served under five different presidents, including Obama, people were shocked. I wasn’t. Not just because I have seen firsthand how the U.S. foreign policy apparatus encourages deeply irrational fixations with Muslims but because this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. In 2006, Patrick Syring—a foreign service officer who had spent decades overseas, including at the U.S. embassy in Beirut—launched a targeted harassment campaign against the Arab American Institute. As a 2021 story in the Washingtonian details, he sent hateful emails and voicemails—including death threats—to the institute’s president, James Zogby, and other senior employees. In 2008, he was sentenced to a one-year prison term and three years of supervised release for violating Zogby’s civil rights. These are not men “canceled” for one-off meltdowns. These are men who made their living in part by being Middle East experts. They had other jobs over the course of their careers, of course, but they lived in and knew about the Middle East because they negotiated treaties and screened immigrants for terrorist connections on behalf of the United States. We enjoy the comforting conceit that racists are simply ignorant, but in this case, they are very, very knowledgeable. Syring and Seldowitz are products of the state, and so is the obsessive quality, the diligent specificity of their hatred. It is a fixation that permeates the American foreign policy establishment, its immigration system, its economic sanctions, and its military assistance: the idea that Arabs and Muslims are uniquely threatening and vexing subjects that must be fixed, or failing that, destroyed. read the complete article

AIPAC's vast campaign to unseat pro-Palestine US lawmakers

As the left wing of the Democratic Party continues to diverge with the party establishment over Israel's war in Gaza, some of the US House's most outspoken critics are already facing primary challengers, with the conflict being used as a pretext. Among the main targets are progressive Democrats Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Summer Lee, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, as well as Republican Thomas Massie for his recent "No" votes on multiple resolutions related to the conflict. Though this news could be expected as primary season draws closer, the amount of money that will reportedly be spent to help oust these progressive incumbents, estimated at around $100 million for AIPAC and its affiliates, is alarming to progressives whose grassroots campaigns will have a hard time competing financially. Moreover, targeting relatively young members of Congress, most of them women of colour, could be counterproductive to the Democratic Party, which could lose support from these incumbents' communities. At present, it is not clear what the Democratic leadership's position is on efforts to oust progressive incumbents. What is clear is that AIPAC and its affiliated political action committees, with substantial support from Republican donors, are determined to help oust members of Congress who have expressed dissent against US policy in Israel. Though progressives in the Democratic Party are often depicted as extreme, their main policy positions tend to poll favourably with American voters. These include universal healthcare, forgiveness of student loan debt (and ultimately affordable education for all), the legalisation of marijuana, higher minimum wage, and over the last three months a ceasefire in Gaza. "Progressive members are mainstream. AIPAC is extreme. That's why they need money. We're all taking this seriously," Connor Farrell, founder and CEO of Left Rising, tells TNA. read the complete article

In Viral Video Cases, Does Hate Make the Crime?

In November, former State Department official Stuart Seldowitz was filmed harassing a Muslim street-cart vendor in New York City. In multiple videos posted online, Seldowitz taunts the vendor, making vague threats against both him and his family, all the while spewing hateful comments about Palestinians and Muslims. After the videos caused a stir on social media, Seldowitz was charged with stalking, harassment, and a hate crime, all in violation of New York criminal law. Against a backdrop of growing free speech controversies in the United States, including those related to the war between Hamas and Israel, some commentators have raised concerns about the implications of such prosecutions. But it is important to distinguish prosecutions for speech, which this is not, from prosecutions for other conduct in which such speech serves as evidence for a potential hate crime enhancement. As the war rages in Gaza, reports of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and antisemitic hate crimes have surged in the United States. The Seldowitz case is part of that trend, but it can be distinguished from other recent high-profile incidents – such as the fatal stabbing of a Palestinian American child in Illinois, the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Vermont, and numerous acts of vandalism against synagogues across the country – because it did not involve an act of physical violence or property damage. Decades ago, the Supreme Court held that hate crime laws like the one with which Seldowitz has been charged do not violate the First Amendment. In some respects, however, the Seldowitz case reveals a tension that can arise, in a narrow subset of cases, between the enforcement of these laws and a defendant’s First Amendment rights. read the complete article

76-Year-Old Sunnyside resident charged with hate crimes for anti-Muslim graffiti in condo complex: DA

A 76-year-old Sunnyside man who has a long history of antagonizing residents in the condo complex where he lives has been charged with hate crimes for tagging his building with anti-Muslim slurs, authorities said. Neal Milano, who lives at 47-55 39th Pl., allegedly scrawled hate-filled messages on the walls inside of his condo building that included “Kill Hamas Iran Condo Board” and “F$$k you condo board + Super Waaaah! Crybaby is Mad die pig.” The 76-year-old was caught on video writing the graffiti messages at around 5:05 p.m. on Nov. 2, according to the District Attorney’s office. He allegedly scrawled the messages on eight walls on four floors. In 2017, he faced accusations of racism after he decorated the building’s lobby with WWII regalia, including images of Hitler with a swastika flag, Mussolini and Stalin. The building also had images pertaining to the Civil War and Donald Trump. Some residents found his display to be offensive and intimidating. read the complete article

Man accused of attacking Muslim lawmaker in Connecticut ordered to undergo psych exam

A man accused of attacking a Connecticut state representative outside a Muslim prayer service was ordered Thursday to undergo a mental competency evaluation. Andrey Desmond, 30, appeared in Superior Court on several charges, including attempted sexual assault in the June attack on state Rep. Maryam Khan, who was attending a service at Hartford's XL Center with her family marking Eid al-Adha, the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage by Muslims to Mecca. Court records show that Desmond, who was living in New Britain, has a history of mental illness. “I will say our mental health system is very broken,” Khan said outside of the courthouse. She has said that she and her family, including her 15-year-old daughter, were taking photos outside the arena when Desmond approached and said he “intended to have sexual relations” with one of them. Desmond then followed them inside and Khan said he started to pursue her in particular, grabbing at her face and shirt and demanding a kiss, she said. He followed her back outside and tried to grab her face again, she said, but became angry when she “dodged him” and slapped her across the face. She said he later put her in a “chokehold” and held up his hand and mimicked having a gun before slamming her into the ground. read the complete article

United Kingdom

War on Gaza: UK primary school threatened Prevent referrals over Palestine symbols

A primary school in London wrote a warning to the parents of children who wore flags and stickers in support of Palestine, during a non-uniform day to raise money for the BBC's Children in Need appeal, that they risked being referred to the government's Prevent counter-terrorism programme. In the letter sent to parents last month, Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, said that dressing in the colours of the Palestinian flag or wearing "badges, jewellery and stickers" supportive of Palestine were "overt demonstrations of political beliefs" that could be "deemed offensive". Middle East Eye understands that the letter was sent to the families of a number of children who wore Palestinian symbols, including an eight-year-old child who wore a Palestinian flag on the side of their jacket. The letter also warns parents about comments posted on social media and on WhatsApp groups. "These should not be brought into school or acted out in parent whatsapp groups that can easily be miscontrued as offensive or divisive and in some cases a form of extremism," the letter said. "Inappropriate comments made at school or demonstrated at school, including extremist or divisive comments, can and will lead to formal meetings with the school, referrals to the PREVENT Team or the Hate Crime Team in Waltham Forest." Lion Academy Trust, which runs Barclay Primary School, did not respond to MEE's request for comment. But in a statement published on Wednesday, it said the letter had been "misappropriated" and "taken out of context". read the complete article

New report exposes scale of Palestine repression at UK schools and workplaces

A new analysis by CAGE International reveals an alarming increase in the number and types of cases involving an attack on expressions of support and solidarity for Palestine across the UK. CAGE International notes a 455% increase in the number of cases it has handled since the last upsurge in 2021. Between October and December 2023, CAGE International handled 214 cases, spanning 118 school and college cases, 35 workplace cases, 35 protest and related cases, 13 university cases, and 13 mosque cases. This substantial rise signifies a broad and alarming clampdown of pro-Palestinian activity. The report also includes five case examples that illustrate the adverse impact on individuals, including children. Our casework observations provide evidence of a full-spectrum coordinated attack instigated by right-wing interests, mainstream media, politicians, and lobby groups. This represents a wholesale assault on the Freedom of Expression under Article 10 and Right to Privacy under Article 8 of the ECHR. read the complete article


'Chilling effect': People expressing pro-Palestinian views censured, suspended from work and school

Restaurant staff losing their jobs for cheering on a pro-Palestinian protest. A Palestinian Canadian journalist fired for her social media posts calling for a #freepalestine. Medical residents flagged to potential hiring committees for their support of Palestinians. These are just some of the many instances across Canada in which employees and students have faced firings, suspensions or calls for them to not be hired based on their publicly stated political stance on the Israel-Hamas war. It's a trend that has been reported not just in Canada but also in the U.S. and Europe, and across various industries, including media, law, health care and the service sector. According to three Ontario-based lawyers who spoke to CBC News, some employers and institutions have been quick to take action against employees or students, creating an environment in which many are afraid they will lose their jobs or face consequences to their education if they express a political stance in favour of one side — Palestinians — during this war. "I can tell you personally, in the last month and a half, I've probably spoken with someone at least once a day [about this]," said Jackie Esmonde, a labour lawyer at Toronto-based firm Cavalluzzo Law. "They're not always cases that we take on, but we do have in the range of eight to 10 cases that we're actively working on at the moment. "I'm not seeing people making what I would consider hate speech or discriminatory speech." read the complete article


Topics Suppressed in China Are Underrepresented on TikTok, Study Says

Topics often suppressed by the Chinese government within its borders, including Tibet, Hong Kong protests and the Uyghur population, appear to be unusually underrepresented on TikTok compared with Instagram, according to a report published Thursday by online researchers. The findings could add to a wave of concern that Beijing may be influencing content on the popular video platform. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. The report, from the Network Contagion Research Institute at Rutgers University, analyzed the volume of posts with certain hashtags on TikTok and Instagram, which has hundreds of millions more users. For popular pop culture and politics terms like #TaylorSwift and #Trump, the researchers found roughly two Instagram posts for every one on TikTok, the report said. But that ratio jumped to more than 8-to-1 for #Uyghur or #Uighur, 30-to-1 for #Tibet, 57-to-1 for #TiananmenSquare, and 174-to-1 for #HongKongProtest. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 22 Dec 2023 Edition


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