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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30 May 2022

Today in Islamophobia: In the United States, a new academic study finds that “the average article mentioning Muslims or Islam in the United States is more negative than 84% of articles in our random sample,” meanwhile in China, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet ended her trip with “cautious criticism of the country’s crackdown in the Xinjiang region, balanced with praise for Chinese authorities, in what rights advocates called a propaganda win for Beijing,” and in France, many French Muslims are leaving the country due to rising Islamophobia. Our recommended read of the day is by Charu Kasturi for the Guardian on how Hindu nationalists, with the support of the BJP-led government, continue to stoke fears of demographic erasure by Muslims in India, despite recent data showing that Muslim fertility rate dropped the most among all communities. This and more below:


30 May 2022

The truth behind Indian extremists’ anti-Muslim ‘great replacement theory’ | Recommended Read

Yati Narsinghanand had a stark warning for India’s one billion Hindus: produce more children or prepare to live in an Islamic state. “The way their [Muslims’] population is increasing, there will be a Muslim prime minister in 2029,” declared the extremist priest at a religious conclave last month, out on bail after being arrested earlier this year on hate speech charges. “Once that happens, 50% [of] Hindus will have to undergo religious conversion, and 40% will be killed.” Earlier this month, data from a government survey called out his blatant lie. Even though only 14% of the country follows Islam, Narsinghanand’s call repeats a line that Hindu supremacists have used for generations to incite anxiety about the prospect of a Muslim-majority India in a nation that is 80% Hindu. The one myth that is frequently cited: a significantly higher fertility rate among Muslims compared to other communities in India. Now, as the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, sparks fresh scrutiny of the American far-right’s ‘great replacement theory,’ new data has punctured India’s own version – where Hindus are allegedly victims of a dramatic Muslim demographic rise. The latest National Family Health Survey shows that the Muslim fertility rate dropped the most among all communities between 2015-16 and 2019-20, and now stands at 2.36, almost half of the figure – 4.4 – from three decades ago. “It’s clear as daylight: the idea that Muslims are going to become India’s biggest community is a total hoax,” says former Indian chief election commissioner SY Quraishi, whose 2021 book, The Population Myth, challenges this notion. Narsinghanand’s comments in April also alluded to a second scare that is a part of the Hindu nationalist toolkit, say critics: that forced religious conversions are depleting the community’s population. Stephanie Kramer, a religious demographer who led the Pew study last year, proved that as many people convert to Hinduism as the number that leave the faith. According to the Pew study, 0.7% of Indians who were born Hindu currently identify by a different religion, while 0.8% were raised in another religion but now identify as Hindu, she says. It’s the same for Indian Muslims – except that they are shedding numbers another way. “Muslims are losing as many people as they gain through conversion, and more Muslims leave India than immigrate,” Kramer says. Fearmongering over the supposed threat to a Hindu majority in India has increased over the past eight years, says Quraishi. That period coincides with the rule of prime minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP). On the same day as Narsinghanand spoke out, Sadhvi Rithambara, a firebrand leader of the BJP-affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), asked Hindu couples to produce four children. If the “great replacement theory” has been amplified by members of congress and prominent media personalities in the US, members of parliament and television channels in India have mainstreamed the lie of a demographic threat to Hindus. read the complete article

30 May 2022

India’s Assault on Religious Liberty

Seventy-five years later, those warnings have gained a new prescience. Nominally, India remains a secular state and a multifaith democracy. Religious minorities account for roughly 20 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people, who include about 200 million Muslims and 28 million Christians. But beneath the country’s ostensible inclusivity runs an undercurrent of Hindu nationalism that has gained strength during the eight-year rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The concern shared by many among the country’s religious minorities, as well as by more secular-minded liberals within the Hindu majority, is that the country’s secular and inclusive ethos is already beyond repair. Muslims and Christians alike have faced a surge in communal violence in recent years. A raft of new laws has reached into their daily lives to interfere with the religious garments they wear, the food they eat, where and how they worship, and even whom they marry. Many of the Indian journalists, lawyers, activists, and religious leaders I’ve spoken with for this article say that the institutions on which the country once relied to keep this kind of ethnic supremacism in check—the courts, opposition parties, and independent media—have buckled. To Khan, it feels as though the India he has inherited is gradually becoming another version of the theocratic state his family turned away from all those years ago. “They were promised a secular nation,” he said. For them, and for the country’s religious minorities today, “the unmaking of secular India is a betrayal.” To belong to a religious minority in India today is to feel “there is no future,” an Indian Muslim from Kashmir, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation, told me. That sentiment is echoed by Ajit Sahi, a former journalist who left India for the United States days after Modi’s reelection. “I have friends who are desperate to get out,” Sahi, a secular-inclined Hindu who now serves as the advocacy director of the Indian American Muslim Council in Washington, D.C., told me. “There is no future for somebody like me back in India.” Nandita Suneja, who moved from her native Delhi to Australia in 2019, told me that the communal tensions made her Hindu family’s decision to leave much easier. She didn’t want to raise her daughter in an “atmosphere of stifling freedom and hate.” For Indian Muslims, in particular, the situation is dire. During the recently passed holy month of Ramadan, they saw their houses and shops bulldozed, their businesses boycotted, and their religious gatherings heckled by Hindu-nationalist mobs. Open calls for genocide against Muslims have become commonplace, as have violent clashes and lynchings. Shah Alam Khan, who teaches orthopedic medicine at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences, considers himself relatively privileged compared with most Indian Muslims, who tend to be among the country’s poorer and more marginalized citizens. But even for him, he says, the country’s majoritarian turn has forced a change in his quotidian habits. He thinks twice before using the greeting Assalamualaikum, or using any other obviously Islamic phrase, in a crowded public space. Asked for his name, he typically offers only Shah, because it’s more common and less identifiably Muslim than his surname. read the complete article


30 May 2022

How the U.N. became a tool of China’s genocide denial propaganda

Before U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made her long-awaited tip to China last week, the Biden administration and the human rights community urged her not to let Beijing turn the visit into a propaganda win for the Chinese Communist Party. But Bachelet ignored those warnings. Her trip ended up helping China deny its genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other repressive policies, harming the cause of human rights accountability in the process. After a two-day visit to the Xinjiang region, Bachelet failed to clearly condemn the government’s campaign of repression there, which the Uyghur community and two successive U.S. administrations have said amounts to genocide. She acquiesced to Beijing’s framing of the issue there as “counterterrorism and radicalization.” She also reported without skepticism that Chinese officials in Xinjiang claim to have closed the “reeducation centers” where an estimated 2 million innocent people have been imprisoned. “She has failed her mandate,” Dolkun Isa, the president of World Uyghur Congress, said Saturday. “The Uyghur community deserves accountability more than ever.” Perhaps Bachelet was too busy hobnobbing with Chinese officials to notice that a huge cache of leaked documents from the Xinjiang police files were released last week. They show the faces of thousands of prisoners thrown into the camps for such “crimes” as traveling abroad, studying Islam or growing a beard. Critics say that Bachelet allowed the Chinese authorities to stage-manage her trip so thoroughly that Beijing will be able to use it to deflect responsibility for its atrocities. “Nothing that we’ve seen from the high commissioner’s trip to China dispels our worry that this will be used as a massive propaganda victory for the Chinese government,” Charbonneau told me in an interview. “Bachelet needs to work to put an end to, and not enable, the perception that the U.N. is letting China get away with massive abuses at no cost.” read the complete article

30 May 2022

U.N. human rights chief disappoints Uyghur advocates on visit to China

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet ended a long-awaited trip to China with cautious criticism of the country’s crackdown in the Xinjiang region, balanced with praise for Chinese authorities, in what rights advocates called a propaganda win for Beijing. In a news conference in Beijing on Saturday, Bachelet reiterated that her trip was “not an investigation.” She said she was unable to determine the scale of a Xinjiang reeducation and incarceration program directed at ethnic Uyghurs, saying high-profile official visits were not conducive to “discreet work of an investigative nature.” Beijing has repeatedly denied accusations of committing cultural genocide against Muslim Uyghur residents in Xinjiang, where up to an estimated 2 million residents have been incarcerated, according to rights researchers. Bachelet said she encouraged Beijing to review its “counterterrorism” policies to ensure that they complied with international human rights standards and that they were not applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory way. “I have heard you,” she said, regarding those who made appeals to her about specific human rights cases. Bachelet is the first U.N. human rights chief to visit China since 2005, and her trip was the result of years of negotiation. Activists were widely disappointed that she did not criticize China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang more forcefully or manage to ferret out new details about the situation on the ground. “The High Commissioner’s remarks were too non-specific and weak to match the gravity of the situation,” William Nee, advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a D.C.-based nongovernmental organization, said on Twitter. “To a large extent, this is the sort of white washing that the human rights community was afraid would happen when the news of her visit was announced.” read the complete article

30 May 2022

UN’s Bachelet says China trip not for a probe, faces criticism

The UN human rights chief has defended her China trip as she was accused of failing to hold Beijing accountable for its alleged human rights abuses, saying she raised concerns with officials about the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the country. Michelle Bachelet said on Saturday her contentious six-day visit to China, including Xinjiang province, was “not an investigation” but insisted she spoke with “candour” during her official meetings. The US, which has accused China of committing “genocide” against Uighur Muslims in western Xinjiang province, had termed Bachelet’s trip “a mistake”. The top UN human rights official said the visit will pave the way for more regular interactions to support China in fulfilling its obligations under international human rights law. “It provides an opportunity for me to better understand the situation in China, but also for the authorities in China to better understand our concerns and to potentially rethink policies that we believe may impact negatively on human rights,” she said in a video news conference on the final day of her trip. Bachelet said China must not use legitimate concerns about “terrorism” to justify human rights abuses. It’s uncertain whether China’s governing Communist Party, which has vehemently denied all reports of human rights violations and genocide in Xinjiang, would change its policies. read the complete article

30 May 2022

UN’s Bachelet wraps up Xinjiang trip without seeing where China locks up Uyghur activists

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet raised more questions than answers on Saturday after what was supposed to be a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang, the Muslim-majority part of China that’s been subject to mounting human rights concerns. Bachelet admitted that the only prison she visited in Xinjiang was not one in which Uyghurs convicted of terrorism or political crimes are held. Those are the charges most commonly meted out by the Chinese authorities to anyone in the region who spoke up against the country’s high-handed approach to their communities. She also didn’t see any operating internment camp — as Chinese officials told her all the so-called “vocational training centers” have closed down. Activists wanted more from what is the first trip to China by a U.N. top official on human rights in nearly two decades, especially following the release of the striking dossier known as the Xinjiang Police Files containing shocking images of life inside those facilities. Bachelet is set to be scrutinized over whether her trip — also featuring a video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping and a physical meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi — would turn into material for Chinese propaganda. The situation in Xinjiang has prompted the U.S. and Europe to impose sanctions on local officials as well as embargoes against products made in the region, due to concerns of forced labor. While Bachelet said she asked Beijing officials to “rethink” certain policies, she was also complacent about what she said she managed to achieve during the trip. “I would say that, to that prison, the access was pretty open, pretty transparent. We asked many, many questions, and they answered all of them,” she said, though “the majority” of the prisoners were “not necessarily linked to” terrorism or extremism. read the complete article

30 May 2022

‘Escalation of Secrecy’: Global Brands Seek Clarity on Xinjiang

In the summer of 2019, an executive at Patagonia got a phone call from a trusted auditor working in China. A planned trip to visit some cotton farms in the region of Xinjiang wasn’t going to happen. Soon other barriers were thrown up. Information from suppliers in the region ran dry. “We saw this escalation of secrecy,” said Matt Dwyer, the Patagonia executive who oversees the privately held outdoor apparel maker’s supply chains. He spent a year trying to figure out what was going on as media reports detailed widespread repression and forced labor of Uyghur people in Xinjiang. “When you peel the onion, it starts to reek pretty quick,” Mr. Dwyer said. By July 2020, Patagonia had decided to break the two-decades-long ties with its Chinese partners and build relationships with new cotton farmers, ginneries and spinners in other countries. China’s repression of the Uyghur people is in the spotlight this week after hacked police documents detailed systemic abuse in Xinjiang. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, is also visiting the region on a trip that faces severe limitations. Her movements have been confined to what Chinese officials describe as a “closed-loop bubble” to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, dashing any hope of an assessment of the repression of the Uyghurs and prompting the United States to call it a mistake. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, told Ms. Bachelet this week that his country didn’t need “patronizing lectures” about human rights issues, according to Chinese state media. The lack of access in Xinjiang has also made it pretty much impossible for global clothing brands like Patagonia to figure out if their Chinese suppliers use forced labor. At best, their auditing firms have been offered factory visits by video. At worst, local monitoring staff members are harassed and their offices raided and shut down by the Chinese police. Calculating whether to leave Xinjiang is complicated for international brands. The reputational risk and legal costs from the West that they could incur by staying are huge, yet brands face large commercial losses in China if they leave. There is also the challenge of finding new partners, when the costs of both cotton and shipping have soared and competition has increased. Speaking out about Xinjiang can unleash fury from nationalistic Chinese consumers, like calls for boycotts and accusations of companies being complicit with Western governments in trying to keep China down. That anger has translated into lost sales totaling hundreds of millions of dollars for companies like H&M and Nike. Brands are typically keen to showcase actions they have taken against forced labor, but when it comes to Xinjiang many simply avoid the subject altogether. Some fear that speaking out might imperil their other China operations and provoke officials to delay shipments of their goods. read the complete article

30 May 2022

VW Under Fire for Ongoing Operations in Xinjiang

The Communist Party has divided the city into precise quadrants, just like a chessboard. Across the city of Ürümqi, signs with numbers are posted on lampposts and fences. The cross street just behind the factory gate lies in Sector 65,793, while the east side is part of Sector 65,605. The numbering system helps state authorities to intervene immediately if necessary. A single call suffices: Within a minute, officers from surrounding police stations will turn up in their vans, brandishing assault rifles. And this despite the fact that there really isn’t much to protect in this corner of this city of 4 million in western China, the capital of the Xinjiang region. Except for a single automobile factory. But that factory appears to be so important to the People’s Armed Police that they maintain a barracks virtually right next door. "Shang Qi Dazhong" – SAIC Volkswagen – read the four, large Chinese characters on the factory’s roof. Otherwise, it would be virtually impossible to tell that cars are built at the facility. The factory, located here in the arid solitude of sparse northwestern China, seems almost deserted. No workers can be seen rushing through the factory gates and no trucks are driving in loaded with supplies. There are just fences, cameras and road barriers. A police car is parked on the intersection in front of the factory, its blue light flashing. Behind the walls, a German automaker is continuing to build cars as if Ürümqi were a totally normal industrial city like Wolfsburg, Zwickau or Ingolstadt. Volkswagen has operated a factory here since 2013, in partnership with the Chinese state-owned company SAIC. The region feels very much like part of a police state, but the carmaker seems unmoved. When contacted, the company said in a statement that the Ürümqi plant is "an integral part of SAIC Volkswagen’s strategic direction in China." When asked if "possible internment camps" were located within 25 kilometers of the factory, which satellite images seem to indicate, Volkswagen responded: "We don’t know." The company said that "to the best of our knowledge," there is no such camp in the immediate vicinity of the plant. read the complete article

30 May 2022

Rohingya refugees face eternal exile in Bangladesh

The ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims suffer severe persecution in Myanmar. Following a deadly crackdown by the Burmese army in 2017, some 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they were settled in the southern town of Cox’s Bazar. Five years on, the town is home to the world’s largest and most dangerous refugee camp, with frequent floods, fires and gang wars. In December 2020, the Bangladeshi government decided to relocate some of the Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. Our reporters Alban Alvarez and Mathilde Cusin managed to gain access to it. read the complete article


30 May 2022

'I love France, but I left': The Muslims who decide to emigrate

"I didn't feel at home there anymore," said Bilal, 27, without a moment's hesitation, when asked why he and his wife, Rahma, left France two years ago. Since then, the couple, of Algerian and Tunisian descent, have settled in Istanbul, Turkey. "I was born in France, I had only been to Algeria a couple of times on holiday. I don't even speak Arabic! I'm French historically and culturally, but I felt I was seen as less than a fully fledged citizen," Bilal told Middle East Eye. When he thinks back to his day-to-day life in France, Bilal recalls his constant fear of being viewed as an outsider. "I was tired of being obliged to work twice as hard to prove myself," he said. "And honestly, it didn't always work out." Fateh Kimouche is the founder of the website Al Kanz, a platform for French Muslim consumers. "You see, it's like when you love a woman but you can't live with her anymore," said Kimouche, in reference to the growing numbers of his fellow Muslims leaving France. "It's a silent exodus. These people all say the same thing: I love France but I'm leaving. Their primary motivation is escaping the climate of Islamophobia. It's a stressful way to live," he said. In 2021, the French interior ministry recorded 171 Islamophobic attacks, an increase of 32 percent in just one year. In parallel, attacks against other religions have fallen, with, for example, antisemitic attacks down by 15 percent. But Michel Pham, creator of Muslim Expat, a website supporting French-speaking Muslims living overseas, sees a clear trend emerging. "Right now, our websites are getting about 7,000 visits per month," he said. "And enquiries are increasing in number." On the website discussion board, the most common questions asked concern the living conditions in countries such as the UK, Canada, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. Muslim women are very often the driving force behind the departure of an entire family because many cannot find work in France that matches their skills and training. In an interview with Lallab, a feminist association, sociologist Fatiha Ajbli said that Muslim women face a dilemma of "choosing between the freedom of working as a French woman and the freedom of wearing the hijab as a Muslim woman". read the complete article

United States

30 May 2022

Yes, Muslims are portrayed negatively in American media

The warm welcome Americans and Europeans have given Ukrainians in 2022 contrasts sharply with the uneven — and frequently hostile — policies toward Syrian refugees in the mid-2010s. Political scientist David Laitin has highlighted the role that religious identities play in this dynamic. As he pointed out in a recent interview, Syrian refugees were “mostly Muslim and faced higher degrees of discrimination than will the Ukrainians, who are largely of Christian heritage.” The media provide information that shapes such attitudes toward Muslims. A 2007 Pew Research Center survey of Americans found that people’s negative opinions on Muslims were mostly influenced by what they heard and read in the media. Communications scholar Muniba Saleem and colleagues have demonstrated the link between media information and “stereotypic beliefs, negative emotions and support for harmful policies” toward Muslim Americans. To better grasp the evolution of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam, our 2022 book, “Covering Muslims: American Newspapers in Comparative Perspective,” tracked the tone of hundreds of thousands of articles over decades. We found overwhelmingly negative coverage, not only in the United States but also in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. First, do articles touching on Muslims and Islam include more negative representations than the average newspaper article? Second, are media portrayals of Muslims more negative than articles touching on other minority religions? If stories about minority religious groups made it to the news only when they were involved in conflict in one way or another, then they may be negative for reasons that are not specific to Muslims. To answer these questions, we used media databases such as LexisNexis, Nexis Uni, ProQuest and Factiva to download 256,963 articles mentioning Muslims or Islam – for which we use the shorthand “Muslim articles” – from 17 national, regional and tabloid newspapers in the United States over the 21-year period from Jan. 1, 1996, to Dec. 31, 2016. Our central finding is that the average article mentioning Muslims or Islam in the United States is more negative than 84% of articles in our random sample. This means that one would likely have to read six articles in U.S. newspapers to find even one that was as negative as the average article touching on Muslims. Articles that mentioned Muslims were also much more likely to be negative than stories touching on any other group we examined. For Catholics, Jews and Hindus, the proportion of positive and negative articles was close to 50-50. By contrast, 80% of all articles related to Muslims were negative. The divergence is striking. Our work shows that the media are not prone to publishing negative stories when they write about other minority religions, but they are very likely to do so when they write about Muslims. read the complete article


30 May 2022

Quebec mosque disappointed with ruling allowing shooter to seek parole after 25 years

Families of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooter say they fear Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means the the 17 children who lost a father could one day meet the killer in the streets of Quebec’s capital. Canada’s high court ruled that the killer who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 can apply for parole after 25 years behind bars. The court declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed a judge, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder. Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the killer shot dead six men after prayers, said families of the victims expressed real concern the killer would be a free man within a relatively short period of time. “Maybe parole (officials) will delay this release a bit (and) will take that into account, but that’s our real fear,” Labidi told a news conference. read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 30 May 2022 Edition


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