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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29 Nov 2023

Today in Islamophobia: In the U.S., a man has been arrested and charged with several hate crimes in New York City after a viral video shows him attacking a Muslim woman on a subway car earlier this month, meanwhile in Europe, EU’s top court has ruled yesterday that government offices across member countries can ban the wearing of religious symbols and religious attire for state employees, a move that advocacy and human rights groups are calling an infringement on religious expression, and in Sweden, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has denounced the country’s far-right SD party leader Jimmie Akesson for calling for the mosques across the nation to be demolished in a speech Akesson made to his constituency. Our recommended read of the day is by Moustafa Bayoumi for The Guardian on how the racist and Islamophobic rhetoric of former State Department employee, and three-time “superior honor award” recipient Stuart Seldowitz, should make us question how individuals with such views are able to gain positions that influence US foreign policy.

United States

Stuart Seldowitz’s hateful behavior is US foreign policy unmasked | Recommended Read

Since 7 November, Stuart Seldowitz has been harassing workers at his local halal cart on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, according to reports. The police, who initially did nothing about Seldowitz’s harassment, finally arrested him on 22 November; he has been charged with aggravated harassment and several counts of stalking. Harassment of any sort is unacceptable, but Seldowitz’s behavior is particularly vulgar and disgusting. And it’s racist to the core. The takeaway of Seldowitz’s hateful behavior is not that he reveals himself to be a bigot. That fact is painfully obvious. It’s also not that his racism is on display at a moment when Islamophobia and antisemitism are on the rise globally, though the racism expressed by Seldowitz in these videos does show how vigilant we must be in defeating such prejudice today. The real takeaway of Seldowitz’s hectoring and vile behavior lies with his former career. Stuart Seldowitz, it turns out, is a former diplomat with the US government. A former state department employee and national security council official, Seldowitz worked under five different administrations, according to this press release by his (now former) employer, Gotham Government Relations. From 1999 to 2003, he worked in the state department’s office of Israel and Palestinian affairs, and during the Obama administration he was acting director for the national security council south Asia directorate. He is also said to be a three-time winner of the state department’s “superior honor award”. What does it say about the US government and its foreign policy that a three-time winner of a “superior honor award” and a man who worked on the Israel-Palestine issue can harass and harangue a simple food cart vendor because of the vendor’s religion and ethnicity? When people harbor such racist and Islamophobic views, and also act on those views, and have already been rewarded, multiple times over, with positions of influence and accolades for their leadership in multiple administrations, you really have to wonder who is running our government. Why should such people, ideologues with clearly demonstrated bias, be instrumental in setting the foreign policy agenda of the US in the first place? read the complete article

New documentary offers a peek into the triumphs and struggles of Muslim chaplains in US military

The woman refused to sell Captain Saleha Jabeen a hijab to don with her military uniform. While many civilian Muslims tell Jabeen she makes them proud, others are horrified by her decision to serve. “You’re gonna go kill Muslims,” the store owner told her that day. Major Rafael Lantigua Jr. has experienced the flip side of that struggle. Angered by an attack on U.S. troops in Iraq, a fellow service member once barked at Lantigua: “Why can’t you call your people and tell them to stop?” The words stung. Just as Jabeen thought the woman saw her as a bad Muslim, Lantigua felt the implication of the outburst directed at him was: You don’t belong. (The service member later apologized). In the years since, Jabeen and Lantigua have become part of the small group of Muslim military chaplains who tend to the souls and spirits of U.S. troops of all faiths and no faith — their work highlighted in a new film that offers a peek into their worlds. Among other duties, they give talks on suicide prevention, provide counsel on relationships, and advise commanders on matters of religion and morale. When the going gets tough, they offer comfort, hope and companionship. They sometimes break barriers and celebrate milestones, like Jabeen becoming the first female Muslim military chaplain a few years ago. At other times, they navigate tensions stemming from the views some have of their faith or their service when those get questioned, scrutinized, debated. “We’re bridge builders,” Lantigua said in an interview. “We’re trying our best in this tension to get like-minded individuals to see the humanity of the other.” read the complete article

Biden Navigates Divisions Over Gaza Inside the White House and Beyond

President Biden’s guests did not try to hide their anguish. Just weeks after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Mr. Biden had invited a small group of prominent Muslim Americans to the White House to discuss Islamophobia in America. The participants were blunt with him, according to four people who were in attendance. They told him that his embrace of Israel after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks was seen by many as permission for Israel’s bombing in Gaza. They said the president’s statement casting doubt on the death toll among Palestinians was insulting. And they said the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy outside Chicago was just one devastating result of the dehumanization of their community. The private meeting, which had been scheduled for 30 minutes, stretched to more than an hour, attendees said. Mr. Biden waved off aides who tried to pull him out of the room as he listened to the criticism and shared his own experience with loss and grief. Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, who was also at the meeting, said the war had increased risks for Americans, as well. “Muslim community leaders told President Biden that the suffering of innocent Gazans trying to survive in extremely difficult circumstances has actually increased the likelihood of Islamophobic attacks in the United States,” he said. The gathering ended with Mr. Biden hugging a woman who had lost her brother in an anti-Muslim hate crime several years ago. But the group left without one thing that it had come for: a promise from Mr. Biden to call for a permanent cease-fire. The meeting was a glimpse into a much larger task Mr. Biden faces as he tries to navigate deep anger among longtime supporters and even inside the White House, where some younger staff members, particularly those with Arab or Muslim backgrounds, have said they feel disenchanted with the president they serve. read the complete article

Muslim woman attacked in suspected hate crime on NYC subway had Palestinian flag broken

Following a viral video that captures an attack against a Muslim woman on a New York City subway earlier this month, a 33-year-old man has been arrested and charged with several hate crimes. Days after the clip made the rounds, showing a man who appears to strike a young woman and destroy her Palestinian flag, police arrested Greg Kutzin, a Manhattan-based finance director, on Nov. 20. The woman told NBC News that police in the subway station initially dismissed her claims and that it took the video going viral for an arrest to be made. The 23-year-old, who is Yemeni American and Muslim, said she was on her way to a pro-Palestinian rally in Bryant Park on Nov. 17 when the man began to glare at her. He called her a “terrorist,” snatched and broke the flag she was carrying, and hit her in the chest, according to both her interview and a police statement. She said this led her to take out her phone and start recording. Kutzin has been charged with six hate crimes including assault, robbery, grand larceny, petit larceny, criminal mischief and harassment, police said. He pleaded not guilty to all counts and was released on his own recognizance. When she first got off the train, the woman said she flagged down a police officer who dismissed her story, telling her the video didn’t prove anything. He questioned if she really wanted to make a police report and deal with the hassle, so she didn’t file one at the time. It was only after the video went viral that she was encouraged by viewers and friends to make an official report. A day after she visited the precinct and gave her statement to police, Kutzin was arrested, she said. “What if I didn’t have a video? What if it didn’t go viral? He would have never even got arrested,” she said. read the complete article


Muslims in Europe feel vulnerable to rising hostility over Israel-Gaza

Jian Omar, a Berlin lawmaker of Kurdish-Syrian background, feels unprotected by police after suffering hate-filled flyers mixed with glass and faeces, a broken window and a hammer-wielding assailant since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel. The three incidents at Omar’s constituency office form part of increased hostility to Muslims in Europe fanned at times by politicians since the Hamas assault, more than 30 community leaders and advocates consulted by Reuters said, adding that incidents were under-reported because of low trust in police. "I feel really alone and if somebody with the status of an elected official can’t be protected then how must others feel?” said Omar. He said police were investigating but had told him they could not offer extra security at his premises. "Imagine if a white German politician was attacked by a migrant or a refugee,” he said, suggesting security forces would do more in such cases. Hate crime has risen dramatically in Europe since the Oct. 7 assault killed around 1,200 Israelis and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza which has killed around 14,800 Palestinians, with registered antisemitic incidents up 1,240% in London and steep rises also seen in France and Germany. Official data shows a significant, smaller increase in anti-Muslim incidents in Britain and is patchy for the other two countries. It does not fully capture the extent of attacks and hostility against individuals and mosques, including children targeted at school, according to the people Reuters consulted, some of whom asked not to be named citing fear of retaliation. read the complete article

Government offices in EU can ban wearing of religious symbols, court rules

Government offices across the EU can ban employees from wearing religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, in the interest of neutrality, the EU’s top court has ruled, though it stressed that such restrictions must be applied equally to all employees and fit within the legal context of each member state. The decision, published by the court of justice of the European Union on Tuesday, said such bans were permissible in order to enforce an “entirely neutral administrative environment”. However, the court said that bans on clothing or symbols linked to philosophical or religious beliefs had to be applied evenly. “Such a rule is not discriminatory if it is applied in a general and indiscriminate manner to all of that administration’s staff and is limited to what is strictly necessary,” it said. The court was asked to rule after a Muslim employee in the municipality of Ans, eastern Belgium, was told she could not wear a headscarf at work. Court documents noted her job involved little contact with the public. News of the ruling sparked concerns in some quarters. Femyso, a pan-European network representing more than 30 Muslim youth and student organisations, described the ruling as potentially infringing on the freedom of religion and expression. “Despite being neutrally cloaked, bans on religious symbols invariably target the headscarf,” the organisation said, citing a 2022 paper from the Open Society Foundations that argued that these bans rest on Islamophobic discourses that portray Islamic dress as incompatible with neutrality. read the complete article


Who Is Geert Wilders, the Far-Right Would-Be Dutch Prime Minister?

Far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders pulled off a surprise victory in a Dutch election on Nov. 22, after a late surge catapulted his anti-European Union party past its rivals. But the Netherlands’ fragmented political system means parties can’t rule without forging coalitions. Wilders’ prospects of leading the next government now hinge on his ability to strike alliances with mainstream politicians who remain deeply suspicious of his illiberal agenda. Wilders, 60, has been a fixture in Dutch politics for decades. He started his career as a member of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal group, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD. But he broke away to serve as an independent lawmaker before setting up the anti-migrant Freedom Party, known as the PVV in Dutch. He has faced death threats because of his anti-Islam views and has been under police protection since 2004. read the complete article


Far-right leader’s hate: Result of ruling party’s enabled Islamophobia in Sweden

On Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson denounced the leader of the country’s far-right party, the Sweden Democrats’ (SD), Jimmie Akesson, after the politician called for mosques to be levelled. Kristersson, whose coalition government does not include the SD but depends on its backing, criticised Akesson's remarks as "disrespectful" and went on to say that they are "a polarising way of expressing oneself." "It gives a bad image of what Sweden stands for internationally," Kristersson told local media. On Saturday, Akesson pushed for mosques to be seized and levelled during his speech at his annual party conference. He called for the "confiscating and tearing down mosques where anti-democratic, anti-Swedish, homophobic, anti-Semitic propaganda or general disinformation is being spread. According to reports, Akesson is said to have been "disturbed" by anti-Israeli demonstrations and Swedish media support of Palestine. The far-right politician went as far to claim that protests were emerging from mosques, leading to calls for their demolition. The former SD prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, called on Kristersson to condemn Akesson's remarks and to sack SD members in ministerial cabinets. Nevertheless, Akesson remarks are having an impact, say officials in Sweden, amid what they describe as a trend of anti-Islam sentiment in the Scandinavian country. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 29 Nov 2023 Edition


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