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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19 Jan 2024

Today in Islamophobia: In the U.S., Stuart Seldowitz, the former State Department official who was filmed harassing and threatening a halal street vendor in Manhattan, may have his charges dismissed if he completes a 26-week anti-bias course, meanwhile, the two Palestinian college students shot in November in Vermont speak out about their experience in an exclusive NBC News interview, and in India, over two decades after the Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya was destroyed by Hindu nationalists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will oversee the consecration of a new Hindu temple built in its place. Our recommended read of the day is by Nadeine Asbali for iNews on the controversy surrounding Michaela Community School headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who has come under fire for banning prayer rituals at her school, a move many say is directly targeting Muslim students. This and more below:

United Kingdom

As a Muslim teacher, Katharine Birbalsingh’s school prayer ban horrifies me | Recommended Read

This week, Katharine Birbalsingh (arguably the most controversial head teacher in the country) has come under further scrutiny for banning prayer rituals at her school, Michaela Community School, in north-west London. The details of the ban were revealed in a two-day hearing in the High Court – the case was brought by a pupil who has deemed it discriminatory and is seeking to have it overturned. Birbalsingh has 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”. As a Muslim secondary school teacher, I am alarmed that a school would seek to curb the rights of students and staff this way. And yet, what is ostensibly more worrying is the language that Birbalsingh has publicly used to defend it. Birbalsingh’s comments do not appear in a vacuum. They are part of a long-held and deliberate political agenda to use schooling as a vehicle through which to push a myopic ideal of traditional Britishness that forces those of us on the outside to either acquiesce or be ostracised as not true Brits. read the complete article

Hizb ut-Tahrir ban: British MPs vote to add Islamic group to terrorism list

British MPs approved the proscription of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist organisation on Thursday, following Home Secretary James Cleverly's announcement earlier this week that the government would ban the Islamic political party. The ban was later also approved by the House of Lords, the UK parliament's upper house, and will come into force from midnight on Friday. All parties in the Commons backed the government’s motion, which was passed without opposition after a brief debate. On its website last month, Hizb ut-Tahrir said calls to ban the organisation in the UK were "a sign of desperation". The group, whose name translates as The Islamic Liberation Party, was established in Jerusalem in 1953 and says that it uses non-violent means to achieve its goal of a caliphate in Muslim lands. In a statement, Hizb ut-Tahrir said it "completely refutes any idea that it is anti-semitic or encourages terrorism". read the complete article

Analysis: UK Hizb ut-Tahir ban puts Muslim political activism on a 'slippery slope'

For the last two decades, Hizb ut-Tahrir has faced the prospect of being labelled and proscribed as a terrorist group in the UK. From midnight on Friday, the group will be classified as a terrorist group and banned from organising in the UK, with anyone found promoting the group facing possible prison time of up to 14 years. But what led to this moment, and what impact will it have on political organising within Britain’s Muslim community? Sadek Hamid, an academic at the University of Wales, explains that Britain was unable to ban the group because successive governments found no evidence of Hizb ut-Tahrir actively promoting terrorism. “In the seven decades of its existence, HT has never advocated violence against state or non-state actors to realise its stated aims,” said Hamid. Khadijah Elshayyal, an academic at the University of Edinburgh, explained that Hizb ut-Tahrir played a role in politicising Muslims because of its “critique of Britain (and western) colonial legacies and neo-colonialism”. Proscription of a group is “political” by its very nature, said Elshayyal, who noted that the context of the Gaza war played a significant role in helping the government classify Hizb ut-Tahrir as a terrorist group. “Proscription is a highly political device and can often tell us much more about the direction of a government and its political stance than it does about the supposed threat posed by any group or individual,” said Elshayyal. “What proscribing HT does is signal to British-Muslim civil society that the shrinking of the parameters for their permitted political activism, and in particular their dissent from the prevailing direction of political travel, continues unabated.” read the complete article

United States

Lawsuit accuses New York County police of forcibly removing Muslim woman's hijab

New York's Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) is facing a lawsuit for allegedly taking off a Muslim woman's hijab forcefully and not returning it until after she was released. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair-New York) and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWMM) on behalf of Marowa Fahmy from East Setauket, and says that in 2022 she was wrongfully arrested by police due to a false tip. The lawsuit alleges that during her arrest, Fahmy's hijab was removed and she was inappropriately touched as male officers observed her while undergoing a body search by the police department. Cair said that despite repeated requests, the police department did not return her hijab, leaving her without it for several hours until her release. The lawsuit claims that the actions of the police department breached both New York State and federal laws. read the complete article

How U.S. Muslims Have Transformed in the 20 Years Since 9/11—and What It Means in the Wake of 10/7

After October 7, verbal and physical assaults against Muslims in the United States have risen to levels not seen since 9/11. Censorship of pro-Palestinian views has also skyrocketed, and many are afraid not just for their physical safety but also their livelihoods. The decades since 9/11 have been transformative for American Muslim communities in ways that are, in turn, shaping their responses to current domestic hostilities and the assault on Gaza. The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan and the global War on Terror — with its attendant domestic policies of surveillance — catapulted U.S. Muslims into antiwar activism, Democratic Party politics and a renewed effort at coalition-building, all of which expanded after the election of former President Donald Trump and his Muslim ban. Many Muslims who came of age experiencing Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment also grew up fighting for, among other issues, Black lives, climate justice and gun control. These experiences are now deeply informing their understanding of the genocide in Gaza. Rather than framing Palestine as a Muslim issue, they see it as a star in a constellation of anti-colonial, racial justice struggles against global white supremacy and the violence of American empire. A persisting question, however, is whether their fight for the soul of the United States is worth enduring the nightmare. read the complete article

Ex-State Dept. Official Ordered to Bias Training After Anti-Muslim Rant

A former State Department employee charged with a hate crime in November after he harassed a halal food vendor in Manhattan, calling him a “terrorist,” may have his charges dismissed if he completes a 26-week anti-bias course and fulfills other requirements, according to prosecutors. At a court appearance Wednesday, Manhattan prosecutors said that if the man, Stuart Seldowitz, completed the program through the organization Queens Counseling for Change, had no new arrests and did not violate a protective order, they would ask that his charges be dropped. Mr. Seldowitz agreed, according to prosecutors. Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of New York, said in a statement on Thursday that “light punishments are a slap in the face to the victims.” “Seldowitz’s vile verbal abuse and harassment targeting an innocent street vendor were caught on video for all to see,” said Ms. Nasher. “The sweetheart deal he received from the Manhattan D.A.’s office is a shameful affront of our justice system and wholly unfitting of his actions.” read the complete article

US Senate panel narrowly advances Muslim federal appellate court nominee

A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday narrowly advanced the nomination of Adeel Mangi to become the nation's first Muslim American federal appeals court judge, after Democrats accused, opens new tab Republican senators of subjecting him to "blatantly Islamophobic lines of questioning and insinuations." Mangi, who is up for a seat on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was one of 19 of President Joe Biden's nominees for lifetime positions on the federal bench that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance to the full Democratic-led chamber for its consideration. The panel advanced his nomination on a party-line 11-10 vote, after Senator Dick Durbin, the committee's Democratic chairman, castigated Republicans for what he called a "new low" of attacks against a nominee driven by bias against his religion. "What is it about Adeel Mangi that attracts such criticism? We know what the starting point is: He would be the first Muslim American to be appointed to serve on the circuit bench," Durbin said. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates in a statement called Mangi "an indisputably qualified and experienced attorney" who had been subjected by a group of Republican senators to "vile, unconscionable smears" and "hateful and undignified attacks." read the complete article

Palestinian students shot in Vermont speak out: ‘I know that it is a hate crime’

Two Palestinian college students who were shot in Vermont said they suspected they were the targets of a hate crime in their most extensive public remarks since the attack. Hisham Awartani, Tahseen Ali Ahmad and Kinnan Abdalhamid were shot on 25 November while walking near the home of Awartani’s grandmother in Burlington, Vermont. In an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, Awartani and Abdalhamid – both 20 – said they believe their shooter took aim at them for being Palestinian. “I don’t think too much about if there’s gonna be hate crime charges,” Awartani said to NBC News about the triple shooting. “I just care that, like, justice is served. And to me, that is a part of it. But I know that it is a hate crime.” Awartani and Abdalhamid told NBC they were speaking Arabic and wearing keffiyehs – a traditional headdress that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestine – when they said they spotted a man waiting on his porch with a loaded firearm. Awartani and Abdalhamid told NBC that they believe the man may have seen the trio before and waited for them to return home. The man then walked down from his porch and began shooting at them, Awartani and Abdalhamid said to NBC. Awartani and Abdalhamid told NBC that they don’t think about the shooting. Their attention has been with killings in Gaza and in the West Bank by Israeli strikes, with Awartani calling the attack “one drop in the ocean of what’s going on in Palestine”. read the complete article


BIPOC book creators are calling out Islamophobia at St. Martin’s Press

A large portion of the online book community has been participating in a months-long marketing boycott against St. Martin’s Press, a publishing imprint under MacMillan—a Big Five publishing house—and against associated imprints under St. Martin’s Publishing Group. The boycott started in October after community members found anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic posts as well as misinformation related to the genocide in Gaza being posted on social media by a St. Martin’s Press employee. As of writing, the boycott continues, with the publisher largely unresponsive to allegations underlined by the campaign, which include unequal treatment toward BIPOC creators and authors by the publisher. read the complete article

Politicians cannot afford Muslim voters being disenchanted with them

In countries such as the US and the UK, there is nothing that focuses the mind like an election, and in 2024 they will be held in both countries, as they will in several other countries around the world. The British and American elections especially come in the backdrop of increasingly polarised societies, the cost of living crises, culture wars, rising prejudice and hate crimes including racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and the continuing war in Gaza. Many Muslims in western countries feel under increasing scrutiny and on the receiving end of anti-Muslim sentiment, including some hate crimes that have been widely reported since October. In the US, Muslim voters being disenchanted with US President Joe Biden’s ongoing support for Israel has in some cases led to complete political disengagement. Last month, some members of the American-Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan, even refused to meet Mr Biden on his visit. In the UK, the Labour party has also found its Muslim voter population proactively disengaging, which could lead to the loss of important votes. It should not need to be said but Muslim voters don’t merely vote on the basis of their religion – although there are some uniting issues such as Gaza and Islamophobia – which is why I’ve been careful to avoid the term the "Muslim vote". But there are also plenty of voters who just happen to be Muslim. And in the coming years and in the next election in the UK, Muslims are likely to hold far more economic and cultural power. Not to mention due to a youthful population, there will be far more Muslim voters than this year. read the complete article


The Mirage of Progress: Why France is Guilty of Sportswashing

The announcement that France will host the 2024 Summer Olympics, heralded as the first Games to ensure complete gender parity, appears as a stride towards women’s rights. However, a closer examination may reveal underlying motivations. Historically, France’s record on minority rights, particularly concerning its Muslim population, has been controversial. Critics argue that under the guise of various noble ideals—from Christianity in the medieval era to contemporary secularism—policies that disproportionately affect Muslims could amount to what the United Nations categorizes as persecution. In this light, the progressive stance on gender equality at the Olympics could be seen as an attempt to divert attention from these deeper issues—a practice known as sportswashing. read the complete article


India Is Unveiling Its Controversial Temple of Ram. Here’s What to Know

A decades-long flashpoint in India’s sectarian politics is poised to reach a climax next week. The Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple, will be consecrated Jan 22. on a contested holy site once home to a mosque in India’s northern city of Ayodhya. For Hindus, site marks the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered deities in the Hindu faith. But the site is also revered by Muslims for having once housed the 16th century Babri Mosque, a monument of faith for Indian Muslims that stood on the site for centuries before it was razed by a Hindu nationalist mob in 1992. Sectarian riots ensued, killing thousands of people. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu-nationalist government has overseen a steady rise in violence against Muslims and other religious minorities, will play a key role in the ceremony—one observers say will mark the unofficial start of his campaign to win a third consecutive term when Indians go to the polls in the spring. While the Indian government, and indeed many Hindus, regard the Jan. 22 consecration as a celebratory occasion of immense national and religious importance, observers fear that the event could signify yet another nail in the coffin of India’s secular ethos. “The Ram Mandir revolves around some of the most divisive issues for religion and society in contemporary India,” Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, tells TIME in an email. “The temple consecration is papering over incredibly traumatic and heavily contested events in India’s history.” read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 19 Jan 2024 Edition


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