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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19 May 2023

Today in Islamophobia: In the U.S., St. Paul police and federal authorities are investigating a fire at a mosque near the Minnesota Capitol, one that has also reported incidents of vandalism in the past, meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch has criticized sharply a plan to return Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, saying it poses “grave risks” to their lives and liberty, and in India, several claims made in the low budget Indian film The Kerala Story continues to stoke tension and anti-Muslim sentiment, with critics saying that the film’s “source material research” is nothing but propaganda. Our recommended read of the day is by Carmen Groleau for CBC News on how Waterloo police have arrested a 27 year old woman who made racist comments and then physically attacked a Muslim woman who had confronted her. This and more below:


Waterloo woman charged as police investigate alleged hate-motivated altercation at Kitchener DriveTest centre | Recommended Read

Waterloo regional police have arrested a 27-year-old Waterloo woman as part of an investigation into an alleged hate-motivated altercation at a DriveTest Centre in Kitchener, Ont., on Wednesday. Police said the incident happened at approximately 12:30 p.m. One of the people involved was Mifrah Abid, who co-ordinates the Together Against Islamophobia program for the Coalition of Muslim Women of K-W. A video posted to Abid's Twitter feed showed Abid as she confronted the woman. Abid says the woman made a racial slur — something the woman denies in the video. "We are all waiting in this line, and everybody heard you here making a racist comment about brown people," Abid said in the video. "It's not nice." Shortly after, the woman is seen on the video lunging toward Abid, grabbing Abid's phone and throwing it at her. A second video taken by a bystander also shows the altercation taking place. Both videos have been circulated on social media. On her own Twitter feed, Abid said she was in a "state of shock" after the altercation. "This is literally what we do at the [coalition]. We help victims report hate and get supports. I was shaking all over," Abid tweeted. "We literally train people on how to be active bystanders and how to counter racism and yet, here I was. I was caught completely off guard when I was hit by this woman." "It's part of my profession to stand up to hate and to train people to be active bystanders and it didn't sit well with me," Abid said. "I would be extremely hypocritical if I just sat there, so I at least had to tell her to stop." read the complete article

Multiple anti-Muslim attacks reported near Canada's Toronto

Canadian police arrested a man who tried to crash into Muslim worshippers at two mosques in the Greater Toronto Area, and an "anti-Muslim, hate-motivated" probe was launched regarding the incident. Police said they were called to services at a Toronto mosque after a man allegedly drove his car into the parking lot and attempted to strike worshippers as well as other vehicles. The driver then sped away and when to another mosque and repeated the same actions. The incidents occurred on April 5 around 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., police said. The suspect then drove to the Scarborough shopping mall, where he entered and accosted several shoppers in a threatening way and shouted anti-Muslim comments. A 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with two counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, five counts of criminal harassment, uttering threats of bodily harm, assault, and indecent acts in a public place and insulting others. Police also ended up charging the suspect with another incident on April 7 at a mosque in the nearby city of Markham. read the complete article

Muslim groups sue Quebec government over prayer room ban in schools

Quebec Muslim groups are taking the provincial government to court over its recently enacted prayer room ban in public schools, arguing that the order is discriminatory and violates the Charter rights to freedom of religion and association. Five Muslim organizations filed their case this week in Quebec Superior Court, seeking a judicial review of the ban and to have it declared unconstitutional. The groups are also seeking a judgment on how secularism and the notion of religious neutrality is interpreted by the government. “The plaintiffs request that a declaratory judgment concerning the interpretation to be given to the principles of laicity and religious neutrality of the state be rendered so that these principles cannot be used to order prohibitions of prayers or other religious practices in public places,” the filing reads. Education Minister Bernard Drainville ordered the ban April 19 after reports of at least two Montreal-area schools permitting students to gather on school property for prayer. The court filing notes that all of the cases reported in the media in March and April involved Muslim youth. “Since it is a complete ban on all forms of prayer and since prayer is an essential component of Muslim religious practice, this ban discriminates against one group of individuals to the detriment of other groups,” the filing reads. read the complete article

Edmonton police investigate possible hate crime on Whyte Avenue

Edmonton police are investigating an alleged hate crime after video of the incident has circulated online. On May 10, 2023, two men were on Whyte Avenue preaching about the Muslim faith when a third individual approached. In the video of the encounter, the individual approaches the two men and can be heard saying, “Why do you guys think anybody wants to hear about your f—ing prophet?” The man then pours a drink out of a can he’s holding onto a table that allegedly had the Quran on it and walks away. One of the men who was targeted asked the individual, “Does that make you happy?” “I just wish these type of incidents do not occur. People should not in any way feel unsafe or feel that they’re being targeted for what they believe,” National Council of Canadian Muslims advocacy officer Said Omar said. The Edmonton police hate crime and violent extremism unit is investigating. Police have spoken to the two men targeted in the incident, as has Omar. read the complete article

United States

Indiana Army veteran convicted in road rage killing of Muslim man

A suburban Indianapolis Army veteran has been convicted in the road rage shooting death of a Muslim man, after witnesses said he hurled ethnic and religious insults at the victim, including yelling, “Go back to your country,” before opening fire. A Marion County jury convicted Dustin E. Passarelli, 37, of murder on Wednesday after a three-day trial over the February 2019 killing of 32-year-old Mustafa Ayoubi. Passarelli, of Plainfield, could get up to 65 years in prison when he’s sentenced June 21 on the murder charge. Passarelli shot and killed Ayoubi following a road rage incident on Interstate 465 that led to Passarelli following Ayoubi to an apartment complex on the city’s northwest side, according to court documents. Multiple witnesses said Passarelli and Ayoubi shouted inflammatory remarks at each other in front of a townhome. They said Passarelli yelled religious and ethnic insults at the unarmed Ayoubi, including, “Go back to your country,” shortly before he shot him. read the complete article

Police, federal authorities probe St. Paul mosque fire

St. Paul police and authorities with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating a fire at a mosque Wednesday morning near the Minnesota Capitol. The fire was reported around 8:30 a.m. at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center, 430 Dale Street, just north of Interstate 94. The building was unoccupied and under renovation. No injuries were reported. St. Paul fire investigators Wednesday described the fire as a suspected arson. Keith Walker, who works next door and saw smoke coming from the mosque, said he’s noticed people who appear to be homeless staying in the building. St. Paul police deputy chief Joshua Lego said officers had previously been called to the building on reports of vandalism in what appeared to be a vacant building. He said there was no immediate evidence that the fire Wednesday morning had been motivated by religious or racial enmity. read the complete article

Being Muslim in the US

In the second episode of Centre Stage, Dalia Fahmy joins Sami Zeidan to discuss what is it like to be a Muslim in the United States. What form of discrimination do Muslims in the US face? How is Islamophobia being used for political gain? And is there a role for Muslims to play in combating Islamophobia?. Fahmy is an associate professor of political science at Long Island University who has written about the effects of Islamophobia on US foreign policy and American identity in politics. She is also a prominent voice speaking out against prejudice and Islamophobia in the US and beyond. Zeidan is a principal presenter at Al Jazeera English. read the complete article

From Waterboarding to Rape, Abu Zubaydah Depicts Torture at Black Sites & Gitmo in Graphic Sketches

The Center for Policy and Research has just published a new report titled “American Torturers: FBI and CIA Abuses at Dark Sites and Guantánamo,” which compiles a series of 40 drawings by Guantánamo Bay prisoner Abu Zubaydah that chronicle the horrific torture he endured since 2002 in CIA dark sites and at Guantánamo Bay, where he has been detained without charge since 2006. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued a new call for the United States to release him immediately. We speak with one of his attorneys, Mark Denbeaux, and CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who exposed the Bush-era torture program and was the only official jailed in connection to it. read the complete article


The Kerala Story: Supreme Court lifts West Bengal's ban on Islamic State film

India's Supreme Court has stayed a ban imposed by West Bengal state on a controversial film that shows three women from the country joining the Islamic State group. The court also asked the film's makers to add a disclaimer that the film is "a fictionalised version of events". The Kerala Story was banned in West Bengal last week. The state government said the decision was in the interests of maintaining peace. The film's makers say The Kerala Story is based on years of research, but critics have called it propaganda. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, an association of multiplex owners had also said they would stop screening the film, citing protests and low audiences. In its Thursday's order, the Supreme Court asked the makers to add two disclaimers to the film as well - one which said that the was "a fictionalised version of events" and another saying that "there is no authentic data to back up the suggestion that the figure of converted people is 32,000 or any other figure". read the complete article

How a Low-Budget, Conspiracy-Laden Hindi Film Ignited Deadly Religious Tension

The Kerala Story, a low-budget Hindi film directed by Sudipto Sen, which was released in cinemas last Friday, tells the fictional story of three women from the southern state of Kerala who are lured into joining the Islamic State (IS) group after being converted to Islam. The filmmakers claim the film is based on years of research, but critics have panned it as propaganda aimed to stoke religious disharmony and Islamophobia. Since its release, the film has received an equal amount of support and disdain: while many leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have praised it, some state governments like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu have refused to screen it at cinemas in an effort to control communal tensions. Now, the Indian Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in on the matter. The Kerala Story had already created a furor months before its release when it screened a teaser in November 2022 claiming to reflect true “heart-breaking and gut-wrenching stories of 32,000 females” from Kerala who joined IS. This claim has since been debunked by a few different outlets, including the fact-checking website Alt News, which published a detailed report that concluded that there was “no evidence” to back the number. In Kerala, which has a population of 33 million—of which 27% are Muslim and 18% are Christian, according to the last census in 2011—politicians and leaders have alleged that the film is part of a larger campaign that’s trying to provoke religious and communal tensions in one of India’s most socially progressive states. The film has performed relatively well at the box office. According to the BBC, it earned more than 560 million rupees ($6.8 million) in five days, which one analyst called “a feat for any new release,” especially one with a small budget and lacking any star power. Its success has surprised many mainstream movie critics in India who deride the film as propaganda. One critic in The Hindu wrote that the film was “marred by half-truths and an emotionally exploitative gaze” which sourced information on Islam from “hate-filled WhatsApp groups.” read the complete article


Cyclone Mocha Devastates Myanmar’s Rohingya

Humanitarian workers are reporting extensive cyclone damage across central Rakhine, where about 140,000 of Myanmar’s 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have been confined to camps for more than 10 years, with some camps near fully destroyed. What we know about these camps tells us that the damage and loss of life incurred was both foreseeable and avoidable. For decades, Myanmar authorities have deprived the Rohingya of their rights and freedoms and eroded their capacity to survive. The camps in Rakhine State were set up in 2012, ostensibly for those displaced by communal violence, but in effect serving the government’s oppressive regime of apartheid, persecution, and imprisonment. Families were confined to bamboo longhouses, designed to last just two years. The authorities denied aid agencies’ requests for adequate land and resources to make safer the flood-prone former paddy fields and low-lying coastal areas where the camps sit. The resulting living conditions are, by design, squalid, contributing to a growing tally of preventable deaths and annual threats from extreme weather. With new blockages on aid imposed since the 2021 military coup, fewer than half of camp shelters had received any repair over the past two years. Initial reports say that Myanmar’s military junta has impeded the disaster response to all affected areas this week, with bureaucratic constraints hindering aid agencies’ travel authorizations and customs clearances. “No government, no organization has come to our village,” a Rohingya man told AFP. “We haven’t eaten for two days.… No one has even come to ask.” Brad Hazlett of the relief organization Partners reported that they were witnessing “a large-scale loss of life in the camps.” read the complete article


HRW condemns Bangladesh, Myanmar on plan to repatriate Rohingya

The Human Rights Watch has criticised sharply a plan to return Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, saying it poses “grave risks” to their lives and liberty. Bangladesh is home to about a million Rohingya, most of whom fled a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar that is now subject to a United Nations genocide investigation. The two countries are looking to return about 1,100 people in a pilot project in the coming weeks even though the UN has said repeatedly the conditions are not right. “Bangladesh authorities shouldn’t forget the reasons why Rohingya became refugees in the first place, and recognise that none of those factors have changed,” HRW said. About 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are confined to squalid camps and villages that leave them vulnerable to extreme weather events such as the recent Cyclone Mocha, it added. AFP said it spoke to several Rohingya who were part of the visit and they expressed major misgivings, particularly following the cyclone, which has devastated Rakhine. “We are not ready to take a single step towards Myanmar. The arrangement they made for us isn’t enough for our safety. We also have not got any justice for the persecution done to us before,” said 38-year-old Hafiz Solaiman. “We don’t trust the Myanmar government 1 percent.” A second man, Ullah, who did not want to give his full name, said Myanmar’s army had made no attempt to save his relatives from Mocha. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 19 May 2023 Edition


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