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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18 Jan 2024

Today in Islamophobia: In India, analysts say next week’s inauguration of the Ram temple is a political move and will “represent the fulfillment of a long-standing promise” for Prime Minister Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s large Hindu base, meanwhile in Germany, the number of threatening letters sent to mosques in Germany has notably increased since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza on October 7, and a European court has ordered Lithuania to pay €100,000 ($108,660) to a Guantanamo detainee who was subjected to inhumane treatment at a CIA “black site” on its territory in the aftermath of 9/11. Our recommended read of the day is by Lorna Petty for The Article on the growth of Islamophobia in France, specifically institutional anti-Muslim racism within the workplace and public schools, which is causing many French Muslims to leave the country. This and more below:


Why do so many French Muslims now want to leave? | Recommended Read

Soumaya has worn the hijab since she was an adolescent. After moving to France a year ago, hostility to her Islamic headscarf has prompted the Moroccan student to remove what she considers to be a mark of her faith and cultural identity. Veiled Muslim women account for most cases of Islamophobic physical aggression, according to data from The Collective for Countering Islamophobia in Europe. Islamophobia frequently combines racial, religious and gendered discrimination, with women making up 81% of the victims of Islamophobic acts in 2022. Successive French governments have been clamping down on Islamic religious symbols in public spaces, citing laïcité, the country’s tradition of legally enforced secularism. In his previous role as education minister Gabriel Attal, France’s new Prime Minister, introduced a classroom ban on the abaya, a long robe worn by women in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. The majority of bans in recent years have targeted Islamic dress, and the heightened visibility of women who wear a headscarf means they are disproportionately impacted by laicité laws, says Professor Juliette Galonnier, a sociologist at Sciences Po, Paris. Among French private employers, only 42% approve of women wearing a headscarf to work, according to a 2015 study by Inagora, which provides consulting advice on religion in the workplace. Because of its recent focus on Islam, laïcité is accused by many Muslims of sanctioning Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. Institutional Islamophobia is even causing Muslims to leave the country, according to Olivier Esteves, a Professor researching immigration and ethnicity at the University of Lille. Of French Muslims who have moved abroad, 70% did so “to face racism and discrimination less frequently”, according to Esteves’ survey of 1074 participants. read the complete article

Karim Benzema sues French minister over Muslim Brotherhood claims

The French footballer Karim Benzema has filed a defamation suit against the country’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, after the minister said he had “notorious” links with the Muslim Brotherhood. The legal challenge, seen by AFP, accused the minister of using the player to score political points, noting that Benzema “has never had the slightest link with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, nor to [his] knowledge with anyone who claims to be a member of it”. The minister began targeting Benzema, 36, in mid-October, after the former Real Madrid player expressed his solidarity with the people of Gaza on social media. “Our prayers to the people of Gaza, victims once again of unjust bombardments that spare neither women nor children,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Darmanin, seen as a hardliner within his party, told a French conservative broadcaster: “Benzema is notoriously linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, we all know it.” He offered no evidence to back up his claims. Days later, after Benzema had denied the allegations and threatened legal reprisals, Darmanin fended off calls in an interview with BFMTV to provide proof. read the complete article

United States

Temple University under investigation for alleged discrimination on campus

Temple University is now the latest Philadelphia-area school to be added to a federal probe of alleged discrimination on college campuses across the nation. In November of last year, the federal government opened civil rights investigations into multiple schools and universities over allegations of antisemitism or Islamophobia since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) said the probe is part of the Biden administration’s effort to take “aggressive action” against discrimination under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Schools found to have violated civil rights law can face penalties up to a total loss of federal money, although the vast majority of cases end in voluntary settlements. read the complete article

Rutgers lifts suspension of chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine. Here's why

Rutgers University has lifted the suspension of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on its New Brunswick campus and imposed a one-year probation period following an investigation into alleged disruptive behavior. In a statement, Rutgers said the decision was made because "students were protesting in nonpublic forums, causing disruption to classes and university functioning, which are violations of university policy." Students for Justice in Palestine has said that its suspension was imposed "with no due process" and said the university had silenced the group in an act of "political posturing." "Rutgers, a university that prides itself on diversity, could have supported Palestinian students suffering during this time," a student organizer said. "Instead, our university has chosen to suppress our voices, experiences, and demands." SJP organizers said they felt the university's actions and statements dehumanized them and "furthered anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia." read the complete article


Immigration issue challenges delicate talks to form new Dutch government

Delicate talks to create a new Dutch government around anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders suffered a setback Wednesday when a lingering immigration issue divided the parties involved in brokering a coalition. “We have a problem,” Wilders told reporters in The Hague, the morning after a decision by senators from a key Dutch political party involved in the coalition talks to back legislation that could force municipalities to house asylum-seekers. People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) senators threw their support behind the proposal Tuesday night. The lower house of parliament already has approved the plan, known as the “Distribution Law,” that aims to more fairly spread thousands of asylum-seekers around the country. Wilders strongly opposes it. Wilders’ Party for Freedom, or PVV, won the most seats in the election, putting him in the driving seat to form a new coalition after four previous administrations led by outgoing VVD leader Mark Rutte. Having Wilders in government would reinforce the far right in the European Union, where Giorgia Meloni is already leading the Italian government. read the complete article

How the “politics of postponement” reshaped the Dutch party system

As the dust settled on the Dutch general election in November last year, most observers focused on the spectacular rise of Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) and the potential for this far-right party to form a government. With 37 seats in the new parliament, the PVV was the clear winner of the election. This was a sensational result for a party that has espoused anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim as well as anti-system and anti-parliamentary views. Wilders and his associates have been critical of Dutch judges, portraying them as prejudiced and representing the interests of the liberal D66 party. Wilders also once described the Dutch parliament as a “fake parliament”. Ironically, one of the first successes of the PVV in the aftermath of the 2023 election was the appointment of Martin Bosma, a leading figure in the PVV, as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Wilders’ victory was achieved in the context of several creeping crises within Dutch society that the country’s mainstream parties have failed to address or have even exacerbated. read the complete article


The Ram Mandir Temple Is Part of Modi’s Playbook

Next Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Ram Mandir temple in Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The temple, which will be 161 feet tall once complete, is constructed on the grounds of the Babri Masjid, a mosque that stood for nearly 500 years before Hindu extremists destroyed it in 1992—a traumatic moment for Muslims in India and beyond. Ram Mandir is meant to mark the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama, whose statue will be placed inside the temple. Sharad Sharma, a member of the trust charged with the temple’s construction and a spokesperson for the Hindu nationalist group Vishva Hindu Parishad, said recently that Ram Mandir “will be our Vatican City, the holiest site for Hindus across the world.” The story behind the temple is characteristic of Modi’s politics during nearly a decade as prime minister: It is deeply controversial, it represents the fulfillment of a long-standing promise, and it is a savvy political move—for Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s large Hindu base, that is. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk and close Modi ally. Adityanath has said the temple will be a symbol of “cultural, spiritual, and social unity.” Instead, it will likely deepen tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Critics will point to the temple’s inauguration by Modi as another blow to India’s secular traditions. Like so many of Modi’s policies, the consecration will be a highly divisive affair. read the complete article

Why a half-finished temple is the symbol of Modi’s Hindu nationalist India

On January 22, the city of Ayodhya, in the huge northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, will host a ceremony to mark the opening of a still unfinished temple. It is difficult to understate the significance of this day as the culmination of a 30-year project that has made Hindu nationalism the dominant political and ideological force in India. In 1992, thousands of activists from a number of Hindu supremacist groups tore down the Babri Masjid, a mosque that had stood in Ayodhya since the 16th century. Its demolition was the product of campaigning that began to gain momentum around 1989. The Hindu groups claimed that the mosque had been built over a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. The campaign thrust the Bharatiya Janata Party into the national consciousness as a viable political force. In 1984, the BJP had only two seats in India’s 543-seat lower house of parliament. By 1991, on the back of the campaign to restore the supposed site of Rama’s birth to Hindus, the BJP — the political expression of Hindu supremacy — won 120 seats. And by 1999, the BJP had enough seats to form government, though it was voted out of power five years later. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP now controls 303 seats and has governed India for the last decade. This is an election year in India and it is widely expected that Modi will win a third consecutive five-year term in May. The new Rama temple, even if only half built, is symbolic of the BJP’s hold over Indian politics, both electoral and cultural. And such is the strength of Modi’s self-possession that it is possibly also symbolic of Modi’s triumph over all opposition. read the complete article

United Kingdom

Katharine Birbalsingh defends ban on school prayers in high court

The headteacher of a school facing legal action over a ban on prayer rituals has defended the policy, arguing that it was vital in order to “maintain a successful learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive”. The case against Michaela community school in Brent, north-west London, which has been the subject of a two-day hearing at the high court in London this week, has been brought by one of its Muslim pupils, who claims the ban is discriminatory and is seeking to have it overturned. Michaela’s founder, Katharine Birbalsingh, often described as the strictest headteacher in Britain, said she had to introduce the ban after a number of pupils began praying in the playground, against what she described as a backdrop of “violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of some of our teachers”. In a statement posted on social media, Birbalsingh said the school – one of the best performers in England – was in court to defend “the culture and ethos” of Michaela, where “children of all races and religions buy into something bigger than themselves: our country”. Previously, the court, sitting before Mr Justice Linden, heard there had not appeared to be any great appetite for prayers at the school, where about half of the pupils are Muslim. In March last year, however, a growing number of children began praying during their lunch break, increasing from a single child to 30 in a matter of days. read the complete article


Threatening letters to mosques in Germany surge since Israel's Gaza war

The number of threatening letters sent to mosques in Germany has notably increased since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza on October 7. According to a statement from the discrimination unit of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) based in the northern city of Cologne, numerous letters and e-mails containing insults and threats have been sent to mosques in Germany. Cologne Central Mosque alone has received 17 such e-mails and letters, and more recently, DITIB Selimiye Mosque in the northern town of Dinslaken was targeted. Against this background, the Muslim community is increasingly worried, it said.Last month, a mosque in the western German city of Munster also received a threatening letter which contained insults against Muslims and migrants. It also contained racist remarks, including "Germany for the Germans, foreigners out.” read the complete article


Peel District School Board Celebrates One Year of ‘Affirming Muslim Student Identities and Dismantling Islamophobia’ Strategy

On the evening of January 15, 2024, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) brought together over 300 staff, students, and community members to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking Affirming Muslim Student Identities and Dismantling Islamophobia Strategy. This initiative, the first of its kind in Canada, aims to foster inclusivity and combat Islamophobia in schools. During the celebration, participants had the chance to reflect on the numerous activities, initiatives, and resources developed over the past year in alignment with the strategy. The event highlighted the progress made and emphasized the ongoing commitment of the board and schools to this essential work. Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, and Wali Shah, Poet & Motivational Speaker, joined the celebration, adding their voices to the occasion. Student performances and workshops added to the festive atmosphere, creating an engaging and informative experience for attendees. read the complete article


Court rules Lithuania must compensate Saudi man held at CIA 'black site'

A court has ordered Lithuania to pay €100,000 ($108,660) to a Guantanamo detainee who was subjected to inhumane treatment at a CIA “black site” on its territory in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Mustafa al-Hawsawi, a Saudi Arabian national, would have faced “an extremely harsh detention regime” at the prison facility in Lithuania, where practices included solitary confinement, continuous use of leg shackles and exposure to noise and light, the European Court of Human Rights found. Lithuanian authorities, the court ruled, would have been aware of the ill treatment Hawsawi would face at the prison - codenamed Site Violet - and violated his rights by cooperating with the CIA, including by allowing his transfer to another CIA site. In addition to compensating Hawsawi, who remains in Guantanamo, Lithuania was ordered to thoroughly investigate his case, which the court said it had failed to do for years. The judgment is the latest in a string of European Court rulings against countries involved in the CIA's secret detention programme, including Italy, Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 18 Jan 2024 Edition


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