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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27 Sep 2023

Today in Islamophobia: In the U.S., the city of Detroit has settled a lawsuit raised against it’s police department by three Muslim men after body camera footage showed two police officers using anti-Muslim language in 2020, meanwhile in Switzerland, the United Nations’ human rights office released a statement publicly criticizing the French government’s ban on French athletes wearing the hijab at the Paris Olympics next year, and in China, the government continues to violate religious freedoms across the country as leadership seeks to assert control. Our recommended read of the day is by Gerry Shih for The Washington Post on how the BJP is instrumentalizing “technology in various ways in pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda that seeks to marginalize religious minorities and suppress criticism.” This and more below:


Inside the vast digital campaign by Hindu nationalists to inflame India | Recommended Read

The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and affiliated Hindu nationalist groups have been in the global vanguard of using social media for political aims — to advance their ideology and cement their grip over the world’s largest electoral democracy. They have perfected the spread of inflammatory, often false and bigoted material on an industrial scale, earning both envy and condemnation beyond India’s borders. Central to the success of the BJP, a party with 180 million members, is a massive messaging machine built on top of U.S. social media platforms. It is part of a wider effort by the right-wing forces aligned with Modi to wield technology in various ways — and restrict its use by opponents — in pursuit of a Hindu nationalist agenda that seeks to marginalize religious minorities and suppress criticism. As hate speech and disinformation in India have grown in recent years, Silicon Valley giants have at times tried to police this incendiary content. But often they have struggled — or willingly turned a blind eye. This spring, Washington Post journalists spent several weeks in Karnataka as it was gearing up for elections and gained rare access to the vast messaging machinery and the activists who run it. In extensive interviews, BJP staffers and the party’s allies revealed how they conceive and craft posts aimed at exploiting the fears of India’s Hindu majority, and detailed how they had assembled a sprawling apparatus of 150,000 social media workers to propagate this content across a vast network of WhatsApp groups. Using this infrastructure, the party was able to send messages touting the BJP’s accomplishments and denigrating its opponent, the Indian National Congress party, directly into the pockets of hundreds of millions of people. But beyond the party’s official online efforts, there was also a shadowy parallel campaign, according to BJP staffers, campaign consultants and party supporters. In rare and extensive interviews, they disclosed that the party quietly collaborates with content creators who run what are known as “third-party” or “troll” pages, and who specialize in creating incendiary posts designed to go viral on WhatsApp and fire up the party’s base. Often, they painted a dire — and false — picture of an India where the nation’s 14 percent Muslim minority, abetted by the secular and liberal Congress party, abused and murdered members of the Hindu majority, and where justice and security could be secured only through a vote for the BJP. read the complete article

He live-streamed his attacks on Indian Muslims. YouTube gave him an award.

Since 2020, the self-styled “cow protection” squad led by Manesar had repeatedly live-streamed its late-night missions to intercept drivers suspected of transporting and slaughtering cows — a job often done by Muslims in India. Manesar would film himself exchanging gunfire with moving cattle trucks and ramming them with his SUV. He chased cow transporters on foot and beat them on camera. In return, his fans on YouTube and Facebook left comments full of heart emojis, praising him for doing the work of God. For a century, vigilantes in north India have worked discreetly in a legal gray zone to protect cows, an animal worshiped by Hindus. But these enforcers have become more extreme and flamboyant in the past decade, thanks to American social media companies that reward them with online followings, and officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who offer them political protection and champion their militant brand of Hindu nationalism. The emerging phenomenon of cow vigilante streamers exemplifies how the BJP and allied right-wing groups have used U.S. social media platforms — including YouTube, a Google subsidiary, and Facebook and Instagram, owned by Meta — to polarize India, rally their political base and assert Hindu dominance, sometimes brutally, in one of the world’s most digitally connected countries. This effort is part of a broader campaign by Hindu nationalists aligned with Modi to use technology to advance their ideology and consolidate their control. Despite repeated warnings from Indian activists, Silicon Valley companies gave Manesar a platform to broadcast violence — and propelled his rise to fame. read the complete article

Under India’s pressure, Facebook let propaganda and hate speech thrive

Nearly three years ago, Facebook’s propaganda hunters uncovered a vast social media influence operation that used hundreds of fake accounts to praise the Indian army’s crackdown in the restive border region of Kashmir and accuse Kashmiri journalists of separatism and sedition. What they found next was explosive: The network was operated by the Indian army’s Chinar Corps, a storied unit garrisoned in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, the heart of Indian Kashmir and one of the most militarized regions in the world. But when the U.S.-based supervisor of Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) unit told colleagues in India that the unit wanted to delete the network’s pages, executives in the New Delhi office pushed back. They warned against antagonizing the government of a sovereign nation over actions in territory it controls. They said they needed to consult local lawyers. They worried they could be imprisoned for treason. The Kashmir case is just one example of how Facebook has fallen short of its professed ideals in India under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). India, a country whose population is 80 percent Hindu and 14 percent Muslim, has long wrestled with religious strife. But in the past decade, the Hindu nationalist BJP has been accused of abetting violence and fanning incendiary speech against Muslims to stoke support from its political base. And often, when harmful content is spread by BJP politicians or their allies on Facebook, the platform has been reluctant to take action. The company denied acting to favor the BJP. read the complete article


UN slams France’s decision to ban French athletes’ hijabs at 2024 Olympics

The United Nations’ human rights office has criticized the French government for banning French athletes from wearing the hijab at the Paris Olympics next year. “No one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear, or not wear,” said Maria Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Tuesday. “In general, according to the committee on elimination of discrimination against women, any state party of the convention, in this case France, has an obligation to take all the appropriate measures to modify any social or cultural patterns which are based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of either sexes,” Hurtado added. Hurtado’s comments came after French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said on Sunday French athletes will not be allowed to wear a hijab at the Paris Olympics next year, arguing in favor of “a strict regime of secularism, applied rigorously in the field of sport.” read the complete article

Muslim Canadians express anger, concern after killing of Sikh leader

Muslim advocates in Canada have expressed anger and concern at allegations that India may have been involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader, stressing that Muslim and Sikh Canadians have long supported each other. Last week, a diplomatic dispute escalated between Ottawa and New Delhi after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was investigating “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The row has led many Muslim activists in Canada to call for more protections for minorities, with some urging a tougher stance against India, which has been accused of discriminating against Muslims under the leadership of right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader who had called for an independent Sikh state in India, was fatally shot outside a Sikh temple in the province of British Columbia in June. “It was widely known that there are agents of the Indian government that were operating in Canada and targeting members of the diaspora community,” Stephen Brown, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) advocacy group, told Al Jazeera. “But going to the point where somebody would be assassinated right outside of a place of worship in broad daylight, the purpose of doing that is to send a message.” read the complete article

US restricts imports from three more Chinese companies tied to forced labor

The United States restricted imports from three more Chinese companies on Tuesday as part of an effort to eliminate goods made with the forced labor of Uyghur minorities from the U.S. supply chain. Xinjiang Tianmian Foundation Textile Co Ltd, Xinjiang Tianshan Wool Textile Co. Ltd and Xinjiang Zhongtai Group Co. Ltd were added to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Entity List, according to a government posting, bringing the total number of entities on the list to 27. The three companies were designated as a result of their business practices involving Uyghur minorities and other persecuted groups, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement. The three companies were designated for working with the government of Xinjiang to recruit and transport, harbor or use the forced labor of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, or members of other persecuted groups out of the region, the United States said. read the complete article

The designer protesting systemic Islamophobia through modest streetwear

Since the start of the month, the abaya — the long, loose and covering robe worn predominately by Muslim and Middle-Eastern girls and women — has been banned in French state schools. For London-based Bengali creative Saeedah Haque, the controversial ruling was the catalyst for a mission to find a sartorial loophole to exploit (while respecting the ruling) for her over 300,000 social media followers. She had already pinned a post detailing the French Football Federation’s hijab ban and how individual French teachers ban and label abayas and thobes (robes worn predominately by Arab boys and men) as ‘extremist clothing’ at the top of her Instagram feed. So, this time round, she reshared the same image of a winking model wearing one of her hoodie abayas flipping the bird, aka putting two middle fingers up, at this latest ban with the defiant caption ‘They can’t ban hoodies.’ Mission accomplished. Cast, photographed, and creative directed by Saeedah herself, the streetwear-inspired abaya pictured has ‘Out Of Sight’ embroidered on the cuff, one of the empowering messages she adds to her designs that nod to modesty, and an Islamic understanding of it. Deciding to proactively support those affected by releasing her fourth abaya hoodie drop around the same time as a reactive France-only exclusive, the 27-year-old urges her community to send pictures of themselves wearing their purchases at school so that she can potentially refund them. “There's a big misconception,” Saeedah explains over Zoom. “The abaya is not a religious garment. It’s ambiguous and you can wear it regardless of your culture and faith. Banning it is harmful because you're forcing girls to uncover their bodies and they might not want to.” read the complete article

United States

City settles lawsuit against Detroit cops captured on body cam hurling Islamophobic slurs

The city has reached a settlement with three Muslim men who sued a pair of Detroit Police officers after one of the officers was captured on body-worn cameras saying "Muslims lie a lot" and "Muslim men are pedophiles," the advocacy group that filed the federal suit said Tuesday. The Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations announced the settlement three years to the day after the Sept. 26, 2020 incident that started with a 911 call about an assault and ended with Detroit Police Officers Donald Owens and Nathaniel Mullen arresting Khalil Muhammad, Clifford Williams and Roberto Guzman, who were later released without charges. "We hope through this settlement, that the Detroit Police Department would be more willing to not only go through (anti-bias) training, but that their officers will internalize that training in dealing with the large Muslim population of Detroit," CAIR-Michigan Director Dawud Walid told The Detroit News Tuesday. read the complete article

What did Ron DeSantis do in Guantanamo?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has faced accusations that he watched prisoners being tortured at the prison at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba while he served at the base as a lawyer in the Navy. Earlier this year, The Independent reported that a former prisoner – Mansoor Adayfi – alleged that Mr DeSantis observed his brutal force-feeding by guards during a hunger strike in 2006 – a practice the United Nations characterised as torture. Mr Adayfi is a Yemeni citizen who was held for 14 years at the US Naval base. Mr DeSantis was stationed at the base between March 2006 and January 2007, according to his military records, and part of his role involved hearing complaints and concerns from prisoners over their conditions. Investigations by The Independent, The Washington Post and other outlets did not report that Mr DeSantis authorised the force-feeding – rather, that he observed and was aware of the practice. read the complete article

The Guardian view on the US and Abu Ghraib: recognition and redress are long overdue

It is 20 years since torture and terrible abuses by the US military began at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Reports of what was happening soon emerged, and an internal military report found “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses”. But it was not until April 2004 that shocking photos were leaked showing the extent of the depravity, including personnel taunting naked prisoners and a hooded man attached to electric wires. George W Bush, the then president, apologised. Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defence, dismissed the perpetrators as “bad apples” and said that he had found a way to compensate Iraqi detainees who had suffered grievous and brutal abuse. Yet a new report from Human Rights Watch finds that the US government has apparently failed to compensate or provide other redress for victims tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib and other US-run prisons in Iraq, and that there is no clear path to pursuing claims. Thousands of men, women and children were held at the prison by the US. An International Committee of the Red Cross report said military intelligence officers estimated that 70 to 90% of those detained in 2003 had been arrested by mistake. Abu Ghraib was not an outlier because horrors took place there. It stood out because the public saw physical evidence to back up the claims of former detainees, and because there was clearly no way of attempting to justify naked human pyramids as part of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, the term the US used to explain away torture. In other regards, it reflected what happened across US military detention centres and CIA “black sites”, as the treatment meted out to “unlawful combatants” held at Guantánamo Bay migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq. read the complete article


Murder trial jury shown photos of accused's apartment, damaged truck that struck London, Ont., Muslim family Social Sharing

Five Afzaal family members were out for a walk when they were attacked. Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents, Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A boy who was nine years old at the time survived. Veltman, 22, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He also faces federal terrorism charges because prosecutors allege he was motivated by far-right ideology. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors say he set out to kill Muslims that day, and the Afzaal family members were targeted because of their clothing. When they were hit by the truck, "both Madiha Salman and Talat Afzaal were wearing a traditional Pakistani clothing called a kameez," prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told the court, a fact that was earlier agreed to by both sides. DNA that matched Madiha's DNA was found on the hood of the truck, court heard. She was wearing a pink-coloured kameez and Talat was wearing a green-and-mustard-coloured kameez. Prosecutors and defence lawyers agree the accused drove the truck and struck the family. They also agree that pieces of Madiha's and Talat's clothing were found lodged in the damaged hood of Veltman's truck. Photos depicting that were shown to jurors on Monday. They heard evidence about and saw pictures of items found inside the truck, including an airsoft gun that resembled a handgun, a machete, a knife with a serated blade, and the accused's drivers licence and bank card. read the complete article


‘A jealous god’: China remakes religions in its own image

Officially, Article 36 in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guarantees freedom of religion for all Chinese citizens. “But the constitution is just a piece of paper,” Xi Lian, a professor at Duke Divinity School in the United States whose research centres around China’s modern encounters with Christianity, told Al Jazeera. “In real life in China, we are not seeing the government respecting freedom of religion.” In recent years, few have felt this more strongly than the Muslim Uighurs in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Muslims in Xinjiang have been detained for attending religious events, praying, wearing a headscarf or having a beard. More than 1 million Uighurs have served time in a detention camp. At the same time, upwards of 16,000 mosques have been damaged or destroyed in Xinjiang since 2017. The encroachment on religious customs and spaces extends beyond the ethnic minorities in western China. The Hui are a group of about 11 million Chinese-speaking adherents of Islam scattered over much of China. Hui mosques and cemeteries across China have been demolished or subjected to “renovations” in recent years. “Hui communities have also been prohibited from using the Arabic script on religious sites, religious leaders have been forbidden from addressing certain topics in religious sermons and definitions of halal food derived from religious authorities have been replaced by state definitions,” David Stroup, an expert on the Hui at the University of Manchester, told Al Jazeera. Christian communities have had similar experiences. read the complete article


‘There Is No Hope’: Death and Desperation Take Over the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Mohib Ullah was a brave voice against spiraling violence and for a dignified return to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, from where around 740,000 Rohingya fled government pogroms in 2017 that the U.N. deems “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” As such, his calls for solidarity threatened the gangs’ lucrative smuggling networks that rely on a cowed, desperate population. Today, even seemingly innocuous social work that might challenge the gangs’ authority is perilous. Of the half-dozen activists TIME spoke to inside Kutupalong, a sprawling slum of some 880,000 beleaguered inhabitants, all have received death threats. “Ten people sleep here at night for my protection,” Zubair, who took over as chairman of Mohib Ullah’s Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, tells TIME in his two-room shelter inside Kutupalong. “My own life has been threatened maybe 100 times. But I will continue this activity until I go back to Myanmar or I am killed.” Zubair knows which fate is more likely. It has been six years since the Rohingya crossed the Naf River to Bangladesh, fleeing violence that claimed an estimated 24,000 lives. The ragtag arrivals brought with them little other than tales of slaughter, arson, and rape. Denied citizenship in Myanmar and in Bangladesh, they are effectively stateless. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 27 Sep 2023 Edition


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