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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22 Jun 2023

Today in Islamophobia: In India, a new report out by CARE finds that WhatsApp is one of the main platforms in the country used to spread hate and misinformation targeting Indian Muslims, meanwhile in the U.S., a court in Indianapolis has sentenced a man to 55 years in prison for the murder of a Muslim man in what authorities are calling an anti-Muslim hate motivated crime, and lastly, a prominent anti-Muslim voice, Jon Guandolo, announced that he is closing his law enforcement training organization, Understanding the Threat (UTT), which was responsible for “peddling bigotry, misinformation, and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.” Our recommended read of the day is by France 24 on how right-wing Indian content creators are publishing videos on Youtube that are reinforcing negative stereotypes and conspiracy theories about Muslims. This and more below:


Staged online videos feed Islamophobia in Modi's India | Recommended Read

One such five-minute film purported to show a Muslim man mixing toilet cleaning liquid into a street snack, before being "confronted" by passersby. The video got more than five million views on Facebook. Another, seen more than 3.5 million times on YouTube, depicts a fruit-seller -- a trade taken up by many Muslims -- cheating customers out of pomegranates before being accosted and assaulted. "Before buying anything from Muslim Jihadis, watch this video of a Muslim fruit seller," the accompanying caption says. Asked about the impact their work may have, the video-makers say the clips are just meant as "entertainment" -- and to make money. The toilet cleaning liquid video was made by Narendra Verma, who has a Facebook page with 55,000 followers and runs a successful YouTube channel. The smartly dressed 28-year-old told AFP that his videos can make his six-member team 250,000 Indian rupees ($3,000) a month from YouTube and Facebook, depending on how many views they get. "We make these videos (to make) people aware so that they can avoid such incidents happening for real in society," he added. Raju Bharti runs a YouTube channel with 2.89 million subscribers and has uploaded hundreds of videos, including the one of the "Muslim fruit-seller". He denies accusations of inciting hatred. Experts say videos like these are shared widely to reinforce negative stereotypes and conspiracy theories about the roughly 210 million Muslims in the world's most populous country. These videos are often included in social media campaigns to economically boycott or attack Muslims, or when communal tensions flare. read the complete article

The world’s largest democracy is collapsing before our eyes

Since Modi took office in 2014, and especially after winning reelection in 2019, he has systematically taken a hammer to the core institutions of Indian democracy. The prime minister’s government has undermined the independence of the election supervision authority, manipulated judges into ruling in his favor, used law enforcement against his enemies, and increased its control over the Indian press. The prime minister’s anti-democratic behavior has accelerated over time. This assault on democracy is a deeply ideological project. The BJP is the electoral offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a radical Hindu nationalist organization to which Modi has belonged since he was 8 years old. Christophe Jaffrelot, a leading India scholar at France’s Sciences Po, told me that its ideology amounts to “an Indian version of fascism.” You would think that a pseudo-fascist assault on democracy in the world’s largest country (by population) would merit an international outcry — certainly as much as the attention given to other prominent democratic backsliders like Hungary. But perhaps because of India’s geopolitical significance, criticism from the world’s leading democracies has been largely muted — left off the agenda as Washington and its Pacific allies court New Delhi in their effort to balance a rising China. read the complete article

The Hindutva-Whatsapp ecosystem: Digital hate against Indian Muslims on Whatsapp

“What did you understand from the film, The Kerala Story? You must see the message below to know!” reads a forwarded WhatsApp message. The message emphasizes that every Hindu person in India should watch the film, and shares details on what one can (allegedly) learn from it. The message uses emotional language to evoke fear amongst the country’s Hindu population. The aim is to deceive the reader and turn them against Indian Muslims. This is one of the many messages flooding Indian WhatsApp chats and groups after the trailer for the film The Kerala Story, a disputed Bollywood film, came out in April this year. According to Pratik Sinha, cofounder of Indian fact-checking site Alt News: “Fake news in India needs to be understood in the wider political climate against Muslims in India. It is a way of spreading hate against Muslims without going into the space of opinion, and just using ‘facts.’” The film’s success soon found space in the Hindutva-WhatsApp ecosystem — a digital space carefully designed to spread misinformation and hate against the Muslim population on a regular basis. read the complete article

‘Om-washing’: Why Modi’s yoga day pose is deceptive

To a gathering of nearly 200 political leaders, Modi enthusiastically framed yoga as “an invaluable gift of [India’s] ancient tradition”. He suggested that honouring yoga could help foster world peace, mitigate the consequences of climate change and combat armed violence. The following year, the world celebrated its first yoga day. And on Wednesday, the UN welcomed Modi back to its headquarters to lead this year’s event. But what version of India did Modi showcase to the world? It was the one that builds on the mainstream portrayal of India as the world’s largest secular democracy and home to a growing economy. Not the version that acknowledges a wrecked democracy – signalled by the rise of an authoritarian, Hindu nationalist and caste supremacist agenda – in Modi’s India. Since becoming the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi and his spiritual allies have appropriated yoga as propaganda for Hindu nationalism and right-wing policies; to rewrite India’s history; and divert public attention away from their Hindu supremacist political agenda. Simply put, Modi has weaponised yoga to conceal the political and systemic violence he has advanced against oppressed minorities in India. read the complete article


Modi’s Visit to the US Whitewashes India’s Far-Right Violence

Leading up to the visit, President Biden praised Modi enthusiastically, telling the PM that he was “too popular” and “demonstrating that democracies matter.” The statement is ironic: Ever since Modi took power in 2014 as the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India has experienced what is widely described as democratic backsliding, characterized by anti-minority and caste-based violence along with brutal crackdowns on dissent. The Biden administration’s messaging on Modi has been alarming. “India is a vibrant democracy. Anybody that happens to go to New Delhi can see that for themselves,” claimed John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, in a recent White House press briefing. Last summer, I worked in New Delhi and witnessed the harassment and suppression of journalists and activists from Modi’s government firsthand. American politicians continue to whitewash an obviously violent reality, often fueled by diaspora-based stakeholders. Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat in California, has lobbied for sending increased security aid to India, citing the country’s crucial role in supporting the United States’ interests with regards to China. Likewise, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) lobbied US lawmakers to stifle Representative Pramila Jayapal’s condemnation of the Modi government’s revocation of the semi-autonomous status granted to Indian-occupied Kashmir. For years, diasporic voices—spearheaded by Muslim and Dalit organizers—have been persistent in addressing the ethnonationalism and casteism that has become a feature of “Indianness” in the homeland and abroad. Many of these groups are leading the fight on the Hill and in human rights spaces, pushing back against their conservative counterparts and bringing to light a different Indian-American voice. read the complete article

Will a Legal Case in Argentina Bring Justice for the Rohingya?

On June 7, Rohingya witnesses testified before an Argentine court about the atrocities committed by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar Armed Forces, against civilians during the so-called clearance operation in 2017. This is a small but significant step in the process of ensuring justice for the long-persecuted Rohingya people. The Rohingya were arbitrarily deprived of their citizenship by the Myanmar government in 1982, and currently, they are the world’s largest group of stateless people. They have been described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted and most discriminated against minority groups in the world. The Rohingya have been subjected to repeated bouts of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar government – in 1978, 1991–1992, 2012, and 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh in each of these instances. Moreover, they were constantly subjected to all forms of oppression, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, restricted movement, restrictions on religious practices, discrimination in employment, and denial of access to social services. In 2015, a study conducted by the Yale Law School concluded that the Myanmar government was conducting a concerted campaign of genocide against the Rohingya people. Moreover, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada have introduced limited and targeted sanctions on Myanmar government officials and entities as a punishment for the genocide against the Rohingya. However, these steps have proved inadequate. They have so far failed to either bring about a just and durable solution to the Rohingya crisis or punish the perpetrators of genocide. Seeking a stronger international response, Gambia, backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November 2019, accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention by committing acts of genocide against the Rohingyas. read the complete article

Indian Dissidents Have Had It With America Praising Modi

“He is the most popular world leader for a reason,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in April, after returning from a trip to India. “He is unbelievable, visionary, and his level of commitment to the people of India is just indescribable and deep and passionate and real.” Indians fighting for democracy beg to differ. Since Modi came to power, they note, the government has imprisoned journalists and arrested opposition leaders. It has stopped activists from traveling abroad. The country revoked the partial autonomy afforded to Jammu and Kashmir—India’s only Muslim-majority state—and cut off its access to the internet. New Delhi then split the state into two and downgraded the resulting enclaves from states into territories, giving the central government even more power over the region’s residents. Not long after, New Delhi passed a law that could strip citizenship from millions of Muslims all across India. For the country’s dissidents, the lavish American rhetoric has prompted anger. “It is a punch in our face,” Kavita Krishnan, an Indian feminist activist, told me. “It feels like a letdown for those of us in India who keep trying to somehow make everyone wake up to the fact that this is a dangerous government.” Ddissidents and journalists say there are ways for the United States to play a constructive role without being a bully or jeopardizing the two countries’ security partnership. A few activists, for example, suggested that the United States might sanction select Indian politicians who engage in widespread abuses. Others argued that Washington should steer clear of direct action but lead by example, making a point of fixing domestic problems that are common to both states. Mostly, however, Indian activists had a simple request for U.S. officials: Stop praising Modi, and instead tell the truth. read the complete article

United States

Islam’s call to prayer is ringing out in more US cities – affirming a long and growing presence of Muslims in America

Minneapolis recently became the first major U.S. city to allow the “adhan,” or Muslim call to prayer, to be broadcast from mosques five times a day. In April 2023, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a change to the city’s sound ordinance, effectively eliminating time constraints that previously prevented the pre-dawn and evening prayer calls from being broadcast. For the citizens of Minneapolis and for many Muslims across the United States, this represents a historic moment. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, described this as a victory for religious freedom and for the U.S. Constitution. The resolution demonstrates that Muslims are not only “welcome here, but they’re also here – that they are part of the fabric of the diversity of this city and our state,” he said in a statement. As a scholar of Islam and Muslims in America, I am particularly interested in how Muslim Americans express themselves as a faith community at the local, national and global levels. The practice of calling worshippers to prayer is an important aspect of daily Muslim life, one that has a long history on American soil. read the complete article

Man jailed for 55 years in US after ‘road rage’ killing of Muslim

A former soldier has been sentenced to 55 years in prison for the “road rage” killing of a Muslim man after witnesses testified he hurled ethnic and religious insults at his victim. Dustin Passarelli was found guilty of murder in May, four years after shooting dead 32-year-old Mustafa Ayoubi, an Afghan-American, by the side of the road in the northwest of Indianapolis. Passarelli followed Ayoubi off the main Interstate 465 and a verbal altercation took place, prosecutors said. Witnesses at the scene said Passarelli made several Islamophobic slurs and yelled “Go back to your country” at Ayoubi before opening fire. The case drew the attention of the FBI and took place as legislators in the state of Indiana were debating new hate crime legislation. The bill was watered down, however, with a “bias crimes” law passed six weeks later that some have argued is ineffectual in hate crimes. read the complete article


The anti-Muslim hate group Understanding the Threat (UTT) is shutting down. UTT is the organization for which John Guandolo, a former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, ran his Islamophobic training programs and other activities. In a June 5 email titled “UTT’s Farewell,” Guandolo told supporters, “We have to shut our doors.” “The assaults from our adversaries financially and legally have been withering and overwhelming,” Guandolo said via email. Guandolo is one the leading anti-Muslim figures in the country. He claims the religion of Islam is at war with the U.S. and pushes conspiracy theories of Muslims being a fifth-column threat working to subvert the country from within. He also advocates against building mosques in the U.S., claiming them to be “where battles are planned, jihadis trained [and] weapons stored.” read the complete article

‘Reeks of profiling’: US ‘no-fly’ list appears to target Muslims

Disappointment, not surprise. That’s how Mayor Mohamed Khairullah of Prospect Park, New Jersey, reacted to a report this month that indicated Muslims are vastly over-represented on travel watch lists maintained by the United States government. Khairullah’s name was among the 1.47 million entries that “regard Muslims” on a leaked set of 2019 travel watch lists, according to an analysis by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Some of those names are on the infamous “no-fly” list, which bars air travel. Others are on the so-called “selectee” list, which designates travellers for extra scrutiny. Both lists are subsets of the wider Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) database, a consolidated catalogue created and maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to identify threats in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks. The FBI has long kept the contents of the database secret. But CAIR obtained leaked files belonging to the database, and its report confirms what many in the Muslim community have long known: that they have been disproportionately represented. According to its analysis, released last week, CAIR estimates that 98 percent of the names on the lists reviewed were of Muslim origin. “It shows me the Muslim and the Arabic community — which has been a positive contributor — and members of our local communities are going to always be looked at as potential hostiles,” Khairullah told Al Jazeera. “It speak to the deep racism in the system … so it’s deeply disappointing.” read the complete article

Tlaib, Omar plan to boycott Modi’s address to Congress over treatment of Muslims

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the two Muslim women in Congress, on Tuesday said they would boycott Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming joint address to Congress. Tlaib wrote on Twitter that Modi’s “long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims and religious minorities, and censoring journalists is unacceptable.” Omar will also host an event at the Capitol following Modi’s address with human rights experts, religious freedom leaders and other members of Congress on Indian policy issues. A group of more than 70 Democrats from both the House and the Senate have asked President Biden to make human rights the focus of his discussion with Modi during his state visit this week. The State Department’s 2022 religious freedom report also highlighted significant human rights issues including credible reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings and extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents. A U.S. panel also recommended that the State Department designate India among others as “countries of particular concern” for violating religious freedoms. read the complete article

Bay Area Rep. Ro Khanna criticized after inviting Indian prime minister to speak before Congress

The decision by Bay Area Rep. Ro Khanna to invite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak before Congress on Thursday engendered a swift backlash from some South Asian Americans deeply critical of Modi’s track record on human rights. Last month, Khanna, D-Santa Clara, penned a bipartisan letter alongside Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, urging him to invite Modi to address Congress in their capacity as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Modi’s arrival in the U.S. coincides with the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and U.S.-India relations. But Modi has come under fire for years over alleged human rights abuses. In 2005, his U.S. visa was revoked by the George W. Bush administration, before Modi became prime minister, over concerns that he did not intervene in his role as chief minister during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat, in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Since assuming his role as prime minister in 2014, Modi has faced criticism for what some have condemned as his Hindu nationalist rhetoric and anti-Muslim sentiments. Sunita Viswanath, the co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, said she believes the celebratory visit and “red carpet welcome” show a hypocrisy in what the U.S. has championed in terms of human rights and an inclusive democracy. “The United States is emboldening a far-right leader and risking the lives of 200 million Muslims by making a politically expedient calculation to turn a blind eye to its democratic backsliding,” she said. read the complete article

Modi’s White House visit highlights deep diaspora divides

Many South Asian Americans have mixed feelings as they prepare themselves for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the White House this week. As some get ready to gather in Washington, D.C., both to welcome and protest him, data from a 2021 study underscores just how torn the diaspora is when it comes to the controversial leader — and it shows that his popularity among Indian Americans falls short of how he is received in India. “For this kind of a ruler to be invited to a state dinner by an American president and to be given an opportunity to speak to a joint session of Congress, where he’s going to talk about the ideals of democracy, is just mind-boggling,” said Ajit Sahi, the advocacy director for the Indian American Muslim Council. The study, conducted by the Carnegie Endowment, found that Modi’s approval rating is much lower among Indian Americans (50%) than among Indians living in India (77%). Dozens of lawmakers in both houses of Congress signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to address human rights concerns with Modi during his visit. The diaspora in the U.S. is still split down the middle in terms of support for Modi. According to the study, 49% of Indian Americans rate his performance favorably, either strongly approving or approving of him; 31% disapprove of his performance; and 20% expressed no opinion on him at all. “It’s a polarized space,” said Sunita Viswanath, a co-founder of the civil rights group Hindus for Human Rights. “There’s very little scope for bridge-building. ... On the one hand, you have this mainstream Hindu response, which is that India’s national leader is coming to town and is being greeted by the American president with a state dinner, and that puts India on the map.” On the other hand, those in minority religions and castes oppressed in India say the visit feels as though the U.S. is validating the structural bias their families face, Viswanath said. Many in diaspora spaces say that bias has followed them. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 22 Jun 2023 Edition


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