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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15 May 2020

Today in Islamophobia: Italian lawmaker apologizes for calling hostage a “neo-terrorist.” The first cases of COVID-19 are reported in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. Bridge Senior Research Fellow Mobashra Tazamal analyzes how the pandemic is exacerbating Islamophobia in India. Our recommended read today is by Elisabetta Povoledo on the Italian hostage release, and how it has erupted in “clashes over Islam and ransom.” This, and more, below:


15 May 2020

Italian Hostage’s Release Erupts Into Clashes Over Islam and Ransom | Recommended Read

When word surfaced last weekend that a kidnapped 24-year-old Italian aid worker had been released after 18 months in captivity in Africa, Italians were overjoyed after weeks of relentlessly gloomy coronavirus-driven news. But from the moment she stepped off an Italian government plane on Sunday wearing a green jilbab — the full-length outer garment worn by some Muslim women — her welcome home became decidedly chillier, and even outright hostile. The conversion of the young woman, Silvia Romano, to Islam, along with rumors that Italy had paid a ransom for her release, opened the dam to a deluge of insults on social media. She has also been met with threats, in an episode that has focused renewed attention on the anti-immigrant and anti-Islam commentary unleashed in Italy during the 15 months that Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League Party, served as the country’s interior minister until he was ousted last fall. Since Monday, the police have been patrolling the Milan street where Ms. Romano lives, and a Milan prosecutor has opened an investigation into the onslaught of threatening messages directed toward her on social media. Supporters said it was as if she had been freed by her kidnappers only to be held hostage — in her home — by Italian haters. Italian news outlets, which said she had changed her first name to Aisha, reported this week that Ms. Romano had told prosecutors that she freely converted to Islam during her abduction. She denied rumors that she had been forced to marry one of her abductors and that she was pregnant, the reports said. read the complete article

Recommended Read
15 May 2020

Italian lawmaker sorry for calling hostage a 'neo-terrorist'

A right-wing lawmaker apologized Thursday for calling a young Italian woman who converted to Islam while held hostage in Somalia a “neo-terrorist.” Alessandro Pagano of the anti-migrant League party said in a Facebook post that he had intended to criticize the government, not Silvia Romano, with his remarks in the lower house of parliament. Pagano drew outrage and a reprimand from fellow lawmakers and the Vatican on Wednesday after he referred to Romano while complaining about the government’s refusal to reopen churches during the coronavirus lockdown. Pagano alleged there is a “strong anti-religious bent” in Italy’s coalition government, “and yet when a neo-terrorist comes back ...” It was a reference to the decision by the Italian premier and foreign minister to greet Romano at Rome’s Ciampino airport Sunday, and apparent willingness to pay ransom to her captors. Romano, 24, was freed after 18 months as a hostage of Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamic extremists. She returned to Italy wearing the green hijab typical of Somali Muslim women, and told prosecutors she had freely converted during her ordeal. read the complete article

Sri Lanka

15 May 2020

Compulsory cremation: A nightmare for Sri Lanka's Muslims

The meme ‘Dying While Muslim’ may not be as familiar as ‘Flying While Muslim’ - which came into prominence in the post-9/11 years when Muslims began to experience Islamophobia after being singled out at airports and airlines. But this meme has now gained popularity in the Sri Lankan context, where Muslims are at the butt end of compulsory state-sanctioned cremations - a discriminatory act in violation of their faith. The ninth Covid-19 death in Sri Lanka was a Muslim woman, forcibly cremated in Modera, Colombo, reduced to ashes, with no funeral rights or family nearby, only to later discover she did not die of Covid -19. Who will take responsibility for this tragic and wilful negligence? She was incidentally the fourth Muslim to be cremated while the cremation of another, on a false pretext of being Covid-19 positive, was thankfully averted in Weligama in the deep south - due to the timely intervention of the Chair of the Urban Council of the area, a politician opposed to such discrimination. These latest episodes of institutionalised racism, have caused anguish and agony among minority communities, already licking the wounds of demonisation since the ethnic war ended in 2009. read the complete article


15 May 2020

Unfortunate COVID-19 related 'rhetoric and harassment' against Muslim community in India: US official

The US has seen unfortunate reports of COVID-19 related "rhetoric and harassment" against the Muslim community in India, a top American diplomat has said, asserting that it has been exacerbated by fake news and misinformation shared on social media. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, however, also said that the US was encouraged by the statements from senior Indian officials calling for unity amidst the unprecedented spread of the pandemic. Brownback was briefing reporters on Thursday on the impact of COVID-19 on religious minorities throughout the world. "In India, we've seen reports of unfortunate COVID-related rhetoric and harassment, particularly against the Muslim community. This has been exacerbated by fake news reports, misinformation being shared via social media. There have also been instances of Muslims being attacked for allegedly spreading the coronavirus," Brownback said during a conference call. read the complete article

15 May 2020

Senate approves Uyghur human rights bill

The Senate on Thursday afternoon approved a bill to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for forced labor camps in the region of Xinjiang, where up to 2 million ethnic Muslims have been forcibly detained, in the latest congressional move to strengthen the US stance toward China. The legislation, titled the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020, condemns the Chinese Communist Party for the camps and recommends a tougher response to the human rights abuses suffered by Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the region. If enacted, President Donald Trump would have 180 days to submit a report to Congress identifying Chinese officials and any other individuals who are responsible for carrying out torture; prolonged detention without charges and a trial; abduction; cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of Muslim minority groups; and other flagrant denials of the "right to life, liberty, or the security of persons" in Xinjiang. The individuals identified in the report would then be subject to sanctions but the legislation gives the White House room to opt against imposing sanctions on the officials if the President determines and certifies to Congress that holding back on sanctions is in the national interest of the United States. read the complete article


15 May 2020

Indian Muslims face renewed stigma amid COVID-19 crisis

After the Indian government linked hundreds of coronavirus cases to a Muslim gathering in March, social media users began spreading angry messages and sharing fake news articles purporting that Muslims were conspiring to spread the virus. The accusations started taking hold after a surge in coronavirus infections was found to be linked to a three-day meeting of an Islamic missionary group, the Tablighi Jamaat, that took place in March in New Delhi. Around 8,000 people had gathered at the meeting site, which then became a hot spot for the virus. The group's chief, Maulana Saad, was later charged with culpable homicide and negligence. The outcome was that many Muslims faced renewed stigma, threats, and boycotts in India, a country where growing Hindu nationalism, encouraged by the national government, had already been increasing hostility toward Muslims. Divisive debates on television and Islamophobic social media trends and hashtags have added fuel to the fire. Dozens of fake videos showing Muslims flouting social distancing rules and spitting on people have circulated over social media. read the complete article

15 May 2020

How India is clamping down on Muslim activists under the cover of coronavirus

Amid a nationwide lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities in India are arresting and summoning Muslim students, activists and journalists who have been critical of Narendra Modi's right-wing government. Scores of Muslim activists and journalists have either been summoned by the police or charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which empowers the state to proscribe individuals as "terrorists" and can carry punishments of up to seven years. One of those charged under the UAPA included a 27-year-old pregnant student activist Safoora Zargar, who has been languishing in Tihar jail in New Delhi - Asia's largest prison - since last month. At least 50 other student activists have been summoned by the police. "The restrictions on mobility and assembly of people because of the lockdown seems to have provided a fresh opportunity for the state to come down hard on voices critical of the government - particularly those belonging to the minority Muslim community, " Afreen Fatima, a prominent student activist advocating for Muslim rights, told The New Arab. Not only have Muslims been blamed and targeted in a spree of attacks across the country for 'deliberately' spreading the virus, they are also now on the receiving end of a state-led crackdown on dissenting voices from the community. read the complete article

15 May 2020

COVID-19 is Exacerbating Islamophobia in India

As the world battles COVID-19, Muslims in India are faced with an additional threat: rising Islamophobia. The pandemic in India has brought a spike in anti-Muslim harassment, discrimination, and violence, but the phenomenon is not new. The current atmosphere is an escalation of a trend that has been growing in the country with the ascendancy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since 2014, Modi and his BJP have mainstreamed Islamophobia in India and elevated religious polarization as they aimed to rid all traces of Islam and Muslims in the country, and reformulate India as a Hindu-only nation. In the past few years, government officials from Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah to Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath have employed dangerous rhetoric, calling Muslims “termites” and promising to throw them “one by one…into the Bay of Bengal,”and promoting claims of “love jihad” to construct Indian Muslims as a menacing, foreign threat. As a result, there’s been a drastic increase in lynchings, harassment, and discrimination. BJP leaders weaponized the threat to health to justify targeting Muslims as one leader within the party likened Tablighi members to “human bombs,” while another BJP minister referred to the event as a “Talibani crime.” Meanwhile online, right-wing Hindu nationalist users used the incident to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment, accusing Indian Muslims of engaging in “#coronajihad,” a term created to describe the belief that Muslims were vectors of the virus and engaged in a sinister plot to infect others. Politicians too joined in as members of the BJP used the viral hashtag online, while others harassed Muslim vendors selling vegetables. read the complete article

United Kingdom

15 May 2020

Police vow to break up planned anti-lockdown protests in UK cities

Flyers for around 60 protests to be held in parks in cities such as Manchester, Leicester and Southampton have circulated online, produced by the little-known “UK Freedom Movement” which aims to say “no to the new normal and no to the unlawful lockdown”. A spokesperson for Greater Manchester police said: “We have patrol plans in place throughout the area to respond to these protests if required.” Similar comments have been made by several other forces. It is not clear who is behind the flyers, which also say “no to mandatory vaccines”, and police are unsure how seriously to take them. But there are warnings that they tap into coronavirus arguments swirling on the far right. Police sources told the Guardian there was a “cross-pollination” between anti- lockdown sentiment and the far right. On Thursday Jayda Fransen, a former deputy leader of the extremist anti-Muslim group Britain First, highlighted a month old YouTube channel called the British Freedom Movement on her Telegram feed. She is also the sole director of a company created at the end of last month called Freedom Movement Ltd. Although she did not claim to be behind the weekend flyers, Fransen is one of a number of far-right figures who are trying to win support by opposing the lockdown. One of the YouTube videos from Fransen’s organisation announces that she is launching a “free advocacy service” aimed at “my people” and anyone subjected to “tyrannical and unlawful policing” during the lockdown. read the complete article

15 May 2020

Right-wing UK minister under fire for 'Islamophobic fake news'

Nadine Dorries is unlikely to be fired from her role as the United Kingdom's health minister after once again using social media to promote "fake news" that appears to hold an Islamophobic agenda, say analysts. Dorries retweeted a video of opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer that had been doctored to make it appear that in his previous role as director of public prosecutions he was reluctant to prosecute "grooming gangs". The edited video made it seem as though he were blaming the young victims, saying many had consumed alcohol and hadn't reported the abuse straight away. It had originally been posted by a far-right account known for Islamophobia. Dorries added the word "revealing" to her retweet. The existence of sex abuse gangs in which the abusers were Muslims has become a touchstone issue for British far-right groups, who falsely claim the gangs are representative of Muslims in the UK. Maria Caulfield and Lucy Allan, also Conservative MPs, also retweeted the video. All three later deleted their posts, but none have yet made a public apology to Starmer or the wider public. read the complete article


15 May 2020

First coronavirus case at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee has become the first person to test positive for coronavirus in the vast camps in Bangladesh that house almost a million people. Health experts have been warning for some time that the virus could race through the sprawling, unsanitary camps that have been home to the refugees since they fled a military offensive in Myanmar more than two years ago. The local health coordinator, Abu Toha Bhuiyan, initially said two refugees had been put into isolation. The World Health Organization later said one case was of a Rohingya man and the other was of a local man who lived near the camp and was being treated at a clinic inside the area. In early April authorities imposed a complete lockdown on the surrounding Cox’s Bazar district after a number of cases, restricting all traffic in and out of the camps. Bangladesh authorities also forced aid organisations to slash their camp presence by 80%. Rights groups and activists have expressed concerns that the camps are hotspots of misinformation about the pandemic because of an internet ban imposed last September. read the complete article

United States

15 May 2020

Mitch McConnell's Patriot Act expansion would hand William Barr unprecedented spy powers

Sen. Ron Wyden was joined by privacy advocates Wednesday in forcefully condemning a new proposed amendment to the PATRIOT Act put forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that would greatly expand the U.S. attorney general's surveillance powers under FISA. McConnell's amendment, which the Senate began debating Wednesday as lawmakers took up the reauthorization of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, would explicitly permit the FBI to collect records of Americans' internet search and browsing histories without a warrant. It would also mandate that Attorney General William Barr, and his successors, conduct an annual review of the FBI's submissions into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. "Typical Americans may think to themselves, 'I've got nothing to worry about, I've done nothing wrong. The government has no reason to suspect me of anything,'" said the senator. "Unfortunately, the question is not whether you did anything, the question is whether a government agent believes they have the right to look at your web searches . . . It is open season on anybody's most personal information." Critics raised concern that the McConnell amendment would allow the Trump administration to spy on its political opponents, with Barr giving approval of evidence used to argue in favor of beginning surveillance. read the complete article

15 May 2020

Senate passes FISA surveillance reform bill, paving way for House passage

The law expired in mid-March, leaving the FBI without several surveillance tools it considers crucial, but the bureau was able to continue to use those powers in investigations that had already been opened. The bill had become a flash point for conservatives angry at the FBI’s handling of an investigation into a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, that involved wiretap order applications that the Justice Department inspector general in December found were marred by errors and omissions. At the same time, liberals, who have been critical of the surveillance process since long before the Page controversy erupted, have seen the bill as a vehicle to push for deeper surveillance reforms to protect civil liberties. The House had passed the original package in March, but when the Senate finally took it up this week, it amended the bill to strengthen third-party oversight of the process used to obtain court approval for wiretaps and searches in espionage and counterterrorism investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The House must now take up the Senate version. The bill also permanently bans a controversial but dormant program that allowed the National Security Agency to obtain Americans’ phone records in FBI counterterrorism investigations.The agency suspended the program in early 2019. In March, three FISA authorities lapsed. One is Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to obtain “any tangible thing” — from airline travel records to genetic profiles to online purchase histories — without a probable-cause warrant as long as it asserts the information is “relevant” to a national security investigation. Another power allows the FBI to surveil a non-U.S. “lone wolf” suspect who might be planning a terrorist attack but who cannot be linked to a foreign terrorist organization. Finally, the “roving wiretap” authority enables the FBI to seek a wiretap order for a criminal suspect and continue using it even if the suspect switches phones. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 15 May 2020 Edition


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