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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20 May 2024

Today in Islamophobia: In India, a recent trend of Bollywood blockbusters, which rely heavily on anti-Muslim stereotypes, is becoming a concern as critics fear the country’s beloved film industry is supporting Hindu nationalism, meanwhile in the United States, lawmakers have signed a letter calling on the heads of several government financial agencies to safeguard against the discriminatory de-risking of Muslim American bank accounts, and in the United Kingdom, a campaign group called The Muslim Vote is hoping to mobilize Muslim communities in the lead-up to the general election saying that it wants to “ensure their votes are taken seriously”.  Our recommended read of the day is by Yashraj Sharma for Al Jazeera on a report published by Indian PM Modi’s Economic Advisory Council, which claims that the country’s Muslim population has increased by 43 percent since 1950 but relies on a survey not census data, as academics argue the paper “serves the purpose of the regime and not of ‘research’.” This and more below:


Has India’s Muslim population really exploded? | Recommended Read

The share of Indian Muslims in the country’s population has soared by more than 43 percent since 1950: That’s the key takeaway from a new working paper published by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC). Amid India’s heated national election campaign, as Modi has increasingly painted scenarios of Muslims backed by opposition parties taking over the nation’s resources, the report has sparked criticism over its timing. Sections of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have amplified the findings of the paper to emphasise a narrative long peddled by the Hindu right that the community’s religious majority in the country is under threat. “The paper serves the purpose of the regime and not of ‘research’,” said Santosh Mehrotra, a development economist and visiting professor at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. The report relies on data from a survey, not the decadal national Census that was last conducted in 2011. The paper, its critics say, overlooks the actual rise in the Hindu population in this period – and how that compares to the Muslim population increase in this period. Between 1951 and 2011, the Muslim population rose from 35.4 million to 172 million. The Hindu population rose from 303 million to 966 million in the same period – a five times greater increase. All of that undermines the credibility of the paper, said Gupta. “This paper makes a mountain out of molehill,” he said. “It is an exercise in propaganda and politics and should not be seen as scholarly.” read the complete article

Narendra Modi’s India: A decade of popularity and polarisation

At 73, Mr Modi remains a massively popular yet polarising figure, both in India and abroad. Supporters claim he is a strong, efficient leader who has delivered on promises. Critics allege his government has weakened federal institutions; cracked down on dissent and press freedom; and that India's Muslim minority feels threatened under his rule. "Mr Modi has very staunch admirers and very strong critics. Either you like him or you dislike him," says political analyst Ravindra Reshme. Mr Modi and his team have an excellent understanding of branding and narrative-control - he is highly visible but rarely anywhere journalists or citizens can ask him tough questions. He has never held a press conference in India since becoming prime minister, while the interviews he gives are rare - and he is rarely challenged. In the past 10 years, there have been numerous attacks on Muslims by right-wing groups, many of them deadly, and anti-Muslim hate speech has soared. "When India and Pakistan were partitioned, our ancestors rejected Muhammad Ali Jinnah's [founder of Pakistan] call and stayed in this country. We have also given our blood to build this country. Yet we are treated as second-class citizens," says Athar Jamal Lari, who is contesting against Mr Modi in Varanasi. And in recent weeks, some of that feeling has appeared to bubble to the surface as the BJP's campaign has shifted from the government's track record to shrill rhetoric against Muslims. Mr Modi himself has been accused of using divisive, Islamophobic language, especially at election rallies, although he denies this, external. read the complete article

Modi’s anti-Muslim rhetoric taps into Hindu replacement fears that trace back to colonial India

The world’s largest election is currently under way in India, with more than 960 million people registered to vote over a period of six weeks. Spearheading the campaign for his Bharatiya Janata Party, incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spending that time crisscrossing the country, delivering a message he hopes will result in a landslide victory for the Hindu nationalist party. He is a popular figure but also a divisive one. Modi’s speeches are drawing heat for their anti-Muslim rhetoric. At a campaign rally on April 21, 2024, he referred to Muslims as “infiltrators.” He later doubled down on these remarks, suggesting that if India’s largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, came to power, the wealth of Hindus would be snatched and given to communities that “have too many children,” a seemingly lightly veiled reference to Indian Muslims. Such language represents a fear that Modi and the BJP have stoked many times before: that Muslims will become a numerical threat to India’s Hindu-majority population. As a historian of public health in India, I believe it is important to shed light on the specific origins of anti-Muslim rhetoric and how it fits long-standing fears of Muslim population growth and the erosion of the Hindu majority in India. read the complete article

Strangers in Their Own Land: Being Muslim in Modi’s India

It is a lonely feeling to know that your country’s leaders do not want you. To be vilified because you are a Muslim in what is now a largely Hindu-first India. It colors everything. Friends, dear for decades, change. Neighbors hold back from neighborly gestures — no longer joining in celebrations, or knocking to inquire in moments of pain. “It is a lifeless life,” said Ziya Us Salam, a writer who lives on the outskirts of Delhi with his wife, Uzma Ausaf, and their four daughters. Now, Mr. Salam’s routine is reduced to office and home, his thoughts occupied by heavier concerns. The constant ethnic profiling because he is “visibly Muslim” — by the bank teller, by the parking lot attendant, by fellow passengers on the train — is wearying, he said. Family conversations are darker, with both parents focused on raising their daughters in a country that increasingly questions or even tries to erase the markers of Muslims’ identity — how they dress, what they eat, even their Indianness altogether. Mr. Salam clings to the hope that India is in a passing phase. His rise to national power in 2014, on a promise of rapid development, swept a decades-old Hindu nationalist movement from the margins of Indian politics firmly to the center. He has since chipped away at the secular framework and robust democracy that had long held India together despite its sometimes explosive religious and caste divisions. Right-wing organizations began using the enormous power around Mr. Modi as a shield to try to reshape Indian society. Their members provoked sectarian clashes as the government looked away, with officials showing up later to raze Muslim homes and round up Muslim men. Emboldened vigilante groups lynched Muslims they accused of smuggling beef (cows are sacred to many Hindus). Top leaders in Mr. Modi’s party openly celebrated Hindus who committed crimes against Muslims. On large sections of broadcast media, but particularly on social media, bigotry coursed unchecked. WhatsApp groups spread conspiracy theories about Muslim men luring Hindu women for religious conversion, or even about Muslims spitting in restaurant food. While Mr. Modi and his party officials reject claims of discrimination by pointing to welfare programs that cover Indians equally, Mr. Modi himself is now repeating anti-Muslim tropes in the election that ends early next month. He has targeted India’s 200 million Muslims more directly than ever, calling them “infiltrators” and insinuating that they have too many children. read the complete article

A ‘tidal change’ in Bollywood: How the world’s largest film industry veered to the right during the Modi era

India’s multibillion-dollar movie industry produces around 1,500 to 2,000 films per year in over 20 languages – more than any other country. And most of these are Hindi films, meaning Bollywood holds an outsized influence on the country’s culture, identity and economy. And while the industry is perhaps most famous for its lavish musical productions, many films also tackle the political, religious and social issues of any given era. But where Hindi cinema once reflected certain secular, democratic values championed by India’s founding fathers, many critics say the industry has veered toward the right over the past decade – coinciding with the populist rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Alarmed liberals and some industry insiders point to a string of recent blockbusters that they say perpetuate anti-Muslim stereotypes and sideline opposition views. While they only represent a fraction of movies produced each year, they receive outsized publicity and sometimes government support – and critics worry they serve as propaganda tools for the BJP as it aims to win a third straight term in ongoing nationwide elections. read the complete article

United States

UCLA’s Unholy Alliance

The House Committee hearings chose only to summon college presidents for a public tongue-lashing and dressing-down. This is because House Republicans are less interested in anti-Semitism than racking up “gotcha” soundbites for their fundraising campaigns, advancing the right-wing assault on DEI and what they define as “critical race theory,” and attacking the university as a whole. According to Inside Higher Ed, Foxx confirmed that “the inquiries could broaden to include the universities’ diversity, equity and inclusion politics.” If Foxx, Stefanik, and fellow House Republicans were genuinely concerned about anti-Semitism, they would investigate the white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and QAnon conspiracy theorists who make up part of their base and participated in the January 6 insurrection. Unlike the January 6 hearings, Foxx’s committee has produced very little evidence of anti-Semitism outside of words and slogans either taken out of context or misinterpreted. Stefanik, for example, managed to turn “intifada,” which literally means “shaking off” or “uprising,” into “genocide of Jews.” But Chancellor Block’s testimony will be different. It will give the committee an opportunity to investigate not only a verifiable and egregious incident of anti-Semitism, but one involving white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Between April 25 and May 2, UCLA experienced the worst episode of both anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian/Islamophobic/racist violence in the university’s century-long history. White nationalists and neo-Nazis joined forces with Zionists (including some saying they were Israelis) to attack UCLA’s Palestine Solidarity Encampment, whose residents included a large number of Jewish students. The assailants were not affiliated with the university. One neo-Nazi was heard shouting, “we’re here to finish what Hitler started,” without any apparent protest from the self-identified Zionists. At least one person present has been identified as an associate of the Proud Boys. Using metal pipes, wooden planks, fists, knives, bricks, noise, chemical weapons, and incendiary fireworks, the mob sent at least twenty-five students to the hospital for broken bones, head trauma, and severe lacerations, while police stood by and watched for hours, electing to neither detain nor interrogate the perpetrators. No arrests took place that night. The following day, only students and faculty defending the encampment were arrested. read the complete article

College students who protested and those who didn't share in disappointment at response from schools

After a semester marked by sweeping protests on college campuses across the nation that raised questions about freedom of speech, how universities confront allegations of antisemitism and Islamophobia and how they invest, some students who experienced the demonstrations say they have been left disappointed by how their universities responded. Universities have also drawn the ire of both Jewish and Muslim students who believe their warnings about rises in antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7 have gone unaddressed. Sinq, 18, a rising sophomore at Pomona College in California, called out what she said was a disparity with how the school addressed claims of Islamophobia compared to claims of antisemitism. “I would say there were Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students who did not receive the same type of care and commitment to their well-being as their Jewish counterparts,” she said. “The focus was always making sure Jewish students felt safe on campus, never about Muslim students. There was a huge disparity.” read the complete article

Elizabeth Warren, Ilhan Omar urge treasury to tackle banking discrimination against Muslim Americans

US lawmakers have signed a letter calling on the heads of several government financial agencies to tighten regulations on financial crimes and safeguard against the discriminatory de-risking of Muslim American bank accounts. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ilhan Omar signed the letter along with nine other colleagues, calling for changes in financial regulations that banks adhere to. "We write to ask your agencies to take robust action to modernize anti-money laundering and financial crimes compliance obligations to protect and promote equitable banking access for Muslim Americans and immigrant communities," the letter reads. In particular, the letter highlights the practice of de-risking, where banks terminate or restrict access to accounts. read the complete article

United Kingdom

Borough welcomes its first Muslim mayor

A charity worker who has become Solihull's first Muslim mayor said she was "deeply humbled" to have been appointed. Shahin Ashraf received overwhelming support from councillors as she was elected. Ms Ashraf, who was made MBE in 2015, said she was "eager and excited" to begin "this new chapter on the journey of service, unity and progress." Nominating Ms Ashraf, Green group leader Max McLoughlin said: "The fact Shahin wears a hijab means she is easily recognised for her faith but she is not defined by it. “Shahin will be the first Muslim and first Muslim woman to be mayor of Solihull. “This is something I know, and Shahin knows, comes with greater levels of attention and scrutiny than for many others who have worn the robes before.” Fellow Green Party councillor Ben Groom said he hoped her appointment would mean “young women from our growing South Asian community and beyond will see politics is an achievable and rewarding option for them." read the complete article

‘We had to break the status quo’: UK campaign seeks to mobilise Muslim vote

A campaign group hoping to mobilise Muslim communities in the lead-up to the general election has said it wants to ensure their votes are “taken seriously” and it aims to produce a list of candidates they endorse later this year. The Muslim Vote, a campaign group, is hoping to encourage as many of the 3.9 million Muslims in the UK to vote in the upcoming general election, focusing on constituencies where they can have the most impact. Abubakr Nanabawa, a 24-year-old coordinator and spokesperson for the campaign, described the mobilisationof Muslim voters as “historic” and said many want to make a “real difference” at the polling booth, particularly in light of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 35,000 people. Nanabawa described the outcome of the ceasefire vote as a “moment of great disappointment and anger”. “That vote was the confirmation to many Muslims that the Labour party in particular, who had spent years trying to claim the Muslim vote and basically take ownership of it, did not value the opinions of their Muslim constituents who, by and large, were asking for a ceasefire,” he said. read the complete article


Muslim graduates fed up with 'hostile' France seek jobs abroad

After being rejected in around 50 interviews for consulting jobs in France despite his ample qualifications, Muslim business school graduate Adam decided to start a new life in Dubai. "I feel much better here than in France," the 32-year-old of North African descent told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "We're all equal. You can have a boss who's Indian, Arab or French," he said. "My religion is more accepted." Highly qualified French citizens from Muslim backgrounds, often the children of immigrants, are leaving France in a quiet brain drain, seeking a new start abroad in cities like London, New York, Montreal or Dubai, according to a new study. The authors of "France, you love it but you leave it," published last month, said it was difficult to estimate exactly how many. But they found that 71% of more than 1,000 people who responded to their survey circulated online had left in part because of racism and discrimination. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 20 May 2024 Edition


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