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.

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16 Jan 2024

Today in Islamophobia: In the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of using an Islamophobic trope after he asked Labour Party MP Zarah Sultana to “call on Hamas and the Houthis to de-escalate the situation”, meanwhile in India, an investigation has found that more than 60 anti-Muslim fictitious narratives are being circulated via Whatsapp under the guise of news on Israel’s war in Gaza, and in France, a mosque in the town of Saint-Martin-des-Champs was vandalized over the weekend with the perpetrator setting the mosque door on fire. Our recommended read of the day is by Soutik Biswas for the BBC on how PM Modi seeks to fulfil a decades-long Hindu nationalist pledge by inaugurating the Ram temple in Ayodhya next week on the site of the 16th-Century Babri mosque. This and more below:


Ayodhya: Transforming a flashpoint holy city into the ‘Hindu Vatican’ | Recommended Read

Frenzied construction work provided the backdrop in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya - a vast centre to welcome pilgrims, arched sandstone gates, a broad corridor leading to a grand new $217m (£170m) temple for the Hindu deity. A multi-billion dollar makeover has seen swathes of the city bulldozed to turn it into what some Hindu nationalist leaders are calling a "Hindu Vatican". Next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will fulfil a decades-long Hindu nationalist pledge by opening the temple, which replaces a 16th-Century mosque that once stood here, on one of India's most controversial religious sites. In 1992, Hindu mobs tore down the Babri mosque, claiming it was built by Muslim invaders on the ruins of a Ram temple, sparking nationwide riots that took nearly 2,000 lives. Mr Modi opens the Ayodhya temple months before general elections, with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eyeing a record third consecutive term. He says the new temple will "unify the nation". Senior minister Rajnath Singh believes the shrine would mark "the beginning of India's cultural revival and restore national pride". Critics say the timing of the opening leans more towards political strategy than religious significance, building a Hindu nationalist momentum ahead of the polls. After all, they argue, the movement to build a temple was a major factor in propelling the BJP to a prominent position in Indian politics. read the complete article

Bollywood's depictions of Muslims over time have gone from good to ugly

The portrayal of Abdul Rashid as a humane, loving Muslim man was a reflection of a visibly thriving real-life Muslim community of India at the time. Their presence resonated with the ethos of a newly founded nation: secular, democratic, plural, while synergistically flowering a creative atmosphere that produced some great literature, poetry and a whole lot of social films like Anarkali (1953), Chaudavi Ki Chand (1960), Mughal –e-Azam (1960) and Pakeezah (1972), all of which portrayed Muslims as essentially good. By the 1970s, the trope of Muslims as "good human beings" was integral to the spontaneous cinematic narrative, as depicted in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), a blockbuster directed by Manmohan Desai about three brothers separated in childhood. Desai celebrated pluralism by showing the brothers adopted by families who followed three faiths – Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, uniting the trio at the end. But Indian cinema has changed a lot since the '70s. In two decades time, friendly depictions of Muslims would begin to disappear. Newer sets of storylines loaded with anti-Muslim sentiments surfaced. The new scripts didn’t care for Abdul Rasids or Akbars, instead creating Abrar Haques (Animal 2023) through a complex journey rooted in India’s political and social reality. One turning point was the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya (the supposed birthplace of Hindu God Ram). The mindless act perpetrated by Hindutva supporters not only propelled communal riots and devastation but also initiated the rise of far-right Hindu politics across the country. Essentially, this was the beginning of formalised Muslim marginalisation and dehumanisation in India. Following the Babri mosque incident, anti-Muslim sentiment carried over to the silver screen with films like Roja (1992), the story of a namesake Tamil woman who searches for her husband (an Indian intelligence agency official), who was abducted by Muslim militants from Kashmir. Roja successfully and subtly created new cinematic tropes denoting Muslims as a metonymy of all things negative and demonic. read the complete article

How WhatsApp Forwards Are Using Israel's War to Push Anti-Muslim Narratives in India

This time, the WhatsApp forwards revolve around the Israel-Hamas conflict, which is unfolding thousands of kilometres away from our homeland. The war is being exploited by hardliners to cast the Muslim community in a negative light and sow communal discord. Surprisingly, many of these WhatsApp forwards, which have gone viral in the small towns and villages, have been formulated by individuals who have no direct association with the ruling party at the Union government. This reporter analysed more than 60 viral narratives spreading misinformation about the intentions of minorities, particularly aiming to stoke fear of Muslims among the Hindu community. This is glaringly evident in these messages, which have mostly gone viral in the Hindi belt, where the saffron party has a vocal support base. False narratives using old speeches, images, and videos are being propagated to say that such acts would occur if the Muslim population in India were to increase. This is happening on platforms such as X and WhatsApp. The latter is purportedly encrypted, and therefore, it is nearly impossible to trace the content in terms of its origin.The viral content on WhatsApp also emphasises perceived similarities between the Hindu and Jewish communities, advocating for Indian support for Israel. Research indicates that such WhatsApp messages have been forwarded multiple times within groups of hundreds of members. read the complete article

Divine moment or political gimmick? India gears up to inaugurate huge Hindu temple

Next week, on 22 January, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, will take part in the inauguration of the Ram Mandir, when an idol of Lord Ram, a Hindu deity, will be placed in the temple’s inner sanctum. Ram Mandir is being built on the site that many Hindus believe to be the birthplace of Ram. It is also where a mosque, Babri Masjid, stood for hundreds of years before being torn down by a Hindu rightwing mob in 1992 after decades of disputes. The demolition, which set off riots that killed thousands, is still regarded by many as one of the most seismic acts of religious violence in independent India. In 2019 the supreme court ruled that the site belonged to Hindus, in a victory for Modi and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which had long pledged to build a temple there. By April, India is due to go to elections in which Modi and his BJP government will be seeking a third term in power. The temple inauguration, where Modi will be leading the ceremonies alongside the priests, has been described by some analysts as the unofficial launch of his election campaign. The BJP’s election agenda is likely to draw heavily on religious sentiments of Hindus, who make up 80% of India’s population. The government’s close alignment with Ram Mandir has been seen as symptomatic of India’s movement away from the secularism enshrined in the post-independence constitution and towards the establishment of the country as a Hindu Rastra [Hindu nation] since the BJP came to power in 2014. read the complete article

United Kingdom

Britain to designate Hizb ut-Tahrir as a ‘terrorist’ group

Britain has moved to ban the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying it is anti-Semitic and should be designated as a “terrorist” organisation. Parliament this week will debate a proposal to make joining the group illegal in the United Kingdom under terrorism laws, the Home Office said on Monday. According to the British Home Office, if parliament agrees with the designation, the label will come into effect from Friday, putting the group on par with other designated groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS). The proscription will also make it an offence to support the group, which would be punishable by up to 14 years in prison and could lead to asset seizures. According to the government’s website, Cleverly may label a group a “terrorist” organisation under British law if the organisation is believed to be “concerned in terrorism, and it is proportional to do”. read the complete article

Kids referred to counter-terror police amid crackdown on Palestine support

More than a hundred schoolchildren and university students have faced “harsh repression and censorship” – including referrals to the government-led counter-terrorism programme Prevent – for displaying support for Palestine in the last three months, campaigners say. openDemocracy has been alerted to reports from across the UK of schools allegedly telling pupils to remove badges, stickers and t-shirts that have “free Palestine” on them; alleged retaliatory measures against college students for tweeting support or joining pickets for Palestine; and claims about university exclusions, suspensions and investigations, as well as the cancellations of pro-Palestinian events. Anas Mustapha, head of public advocacy at the group CAGE International, said the organisation had witnessed “high levels of repression of Palestine solidarity, with employers, teachers and police acting upon prejudice and increasingly disturbing levels of irrational intolerance”. CAGE works with communities impacted by the so-called ‘war on terror’ and says that, since the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October, 130 people have contacted them concerning Palestine censorship in schools, colleges and universities – a 455% increase from their last report in 2021. The figure includes alleged referrals to Prevent. read the complete article

Rishi Sunak accused of using ‘Islamophobic trope’ against Labour MP

Rishi Sunak has been accused of using an “Islamophobic trope” after he asked Labour’s Zarah Sultana to “call on Hamas and the Houthis to de-escalate the situation”. Labour MP Naz Shah said it was a “painful blow” by the Prime Minister and called on him to apologise. Later in the debate, Conservative former minister Andrew Percy was also accused of “playing to a racist trope” by Ms Sultana. The MP for Coventry South claimed Mr Percy was implying that, because she is a Muslim, she supports Hamas. Speaking in the Commons, Ms Sultana said: “Past mistakes in the Middle East should have taught this House that military interventions starting out as limited can quickly escalate, risking a sequence of events far larger and more terrible and risk even dragging us into war. “So rather than giving Israel the green light to continue its brutal bombardment on Gaza and risking a wider conflict, will the Prime Minister seek to de-escalate the situation and call for an immediate ceasefire?” In response to this, Mr Sunak said: “Perhaps the honourable lady would do well to call on Hamas and the Houthis to de-escalate the situation.” Ms Sultana could be heard shouting: “Shame on you.” read the complete article

United States

White Americans who dislike Jews also tend to endorse anti-Muslim attitudes, study suggests

A study in the United States found that around 46% of white Americans held medium or high anti-Muslim opinions back in 2014. Anti-Jewish opinions were much rarer, but most of the people holding these opinions also held anti-Muslim views as well. The paper was published in The Sociological Quarterly. In the United States and much of Europe, Muslims have increasingly become the central ‘other’ in recent nationalist movements. Research indicates a shift in recent years, moving the rejection of Muslims from a fringe political topic to the forefront of political discourse. This trend particularly intensified during the 2016 U.S. elections, leading to notable consequences. Study authors Joseph Gerteis and Nir Rotem wanted to investigate the links between Islamophobia (i.e., anti-Muslim views) and anti-Semitism (i.e., anti-Jewish views) among white Americans. They aimed to understand the prevalence of these views and to determine whether they represent distinct patterns of opinion or if the same individuals typically express both types of opinions. The researchers utilized data from the 2014 Boundaries in the American Mosaic survey, which included responses from 2,521 individuals across the United States and was conducted by GfK Group’s KnowledgePanel. The timing of the survey is crucial as it precedes significant events such as the 2016 election, the Muslim ban, and the subsequent rise of white nationalist movements. The analysis presented in the paper focused on responses from 1,555 white participants. read the complete article


Province invests nearly $2M to help prevent hate crimes in Ontario

The provincial government announced that it’s investing nearly $2 million to help combat an increase in hate crimes being experienced across Ontario. Toronto police released some daunting statistics last month showing how Muslim and Jewish communities continue to be targeted in various hate crimes. In that report, authorities pointed to a 211 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents reported to officers since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in early October compared to the same time a year ago. That same report revealed that since Oct. 7, 2023, Toronto police have investigated nearly 100 hate crimes — 56 targeted the Jewish community, and 20 of those incidents were categorized as anti-Muslim. Additionally, between Jan. 1 and Nov. 20, 2023, there have been 323 reported hate crimes in Toronto versus 224 reported during the same time in 2022. This includes 129 reported anti-Semitic hate crimes and 34 reported anti-Muslim/anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab hate crimes reported. read the complete article


Mosque door deliberately set on fire in France

The Muslim community in France is grappling with a renewed wave of frustration and discontent following a recent attack on the mosque of Saint Martin des Champs in Brittany. The incident, which occurred on January 13, involved an individual setting fire to the door of a mosque room, leaving the Muslim community both in the region and across the nation in a state of shock. According to France 3, a surveillance video captured the alarming moment when an individual deliberately set fire to the mosque’s door. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the incident has triggered widespread backlash and frustration among Muslims in the affected region. The attack comes as part of a series of racist acts targeting Muslim communities in France, including offensive comments on social media, acts of vandalism, and sabotage directed at mosques, cemeteries, and Muslim-owned businesses. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 16 Jan 2024 Edition


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