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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04 Oct 2022

Today in Islamophobia: In the United Kingdom, new figures reveal that “a rising number of people serving in Britain’s armed forces are being flagged to Prevent over suspected far-right extremism,” meanwhile a new documentary about a relationship between a Buddhist midwife and her Muslim apprentice in Myanmar, “allows audiences to better understand the oppression facing Rohingya Muslims,” and in France, the government has shut down at leas 23 mosques since 2020, in “what critics say is a direct action against French Muslims.” Our recommended read of the day is by Sheema Khan for The Globe and Mail who has a message for ruling elites, “be they secular (in Quebec and France) or religious (in Iran and Afghanistan): Just leave Muslim women alone. Let us live our lives and contribute to society.” This and more below:


04 Oct 2022

To the ruling elites, be they secular or religious: Just leave Muslim women alone | Recommended Read

That a woman was arrested and died for showing wisps of hair is reprehensible. That such a law exists is a travesty to basic human dignity. Iranian women are rightfully fed up with edicts that suffocate their lives and violate their personal agency. But it goes beyond women. You cannot shove religion down peoples’ throats without missing the point entirely. As the Quran succinctly puts it: “There is no compulsion in religion.” Some believe one of the solutions to ending the suppression of women is to ban the hijab. But this simply repeats the initial cardinal violation of taking away a woman’s agency in making her own choices. In any instance, a grown woman is fully capable of weighing the necessary information, consulting her peers, if she’d like, and reaching to the inner recesses of her conscience to make a decision that suits her. I clearly saw that both of my friends’ choices were informed by their respective experiences. However, as I explained, my choice was predicated on my own path – not theirs. It was deeply personal, and remains so. I do not impose it on anyone. Nor do I appreciate when others try to impose their choices on me or other women. Many years ago, I stood by my friend who was beaten by her father for choosing to wear the hijab. I stand by my Iranian sisters for the right to choose not to wear it, and their right to be free from coercion and violence. In the end, it is about power and control. This summer, a Leger poll found that as a result of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans the wearing of “religious symbols” (including the hijab) by public-sector workers, more than 70 per cent of Muslim women in the province feel less safe and more than 80 per cent said they feel less hopeful for the next generation. To the ruling elites, be they secular (in Quebec and France) or religious (in Iran and Afghanistan), I say this: Just leave Muslim women alone. Let us live our lives and contribute to society. We have so much to offer, and we want to be part of the greater whole. We are not enemies of the state. read the complete article

04 Oct 2022

UN Rights Body Should Debate Xinjiang Report

This week the credibility of the United Nations Human Rights Council is on the line over an extraordinarily modest request: to hold a debate on a recent report from the UN high commissioner for human rights on abuses in the Xinjiang region of China. Member states would not be obliged to take a position on the issues at hand, the government in question, or even seek a particular outcome. But the debate is an opportunity to stand together to ensure the council fulfills its bare minimum mandate. On August 31, the high commissioner published a report outlining a systematic campaign by the Chinese government to target Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of religion and expression and to enjoy their own culture. The report relies extensively upon the Chinese government’s own policy documents to demonstrate that the authorities’ sweeping crackdown in Xinjiang is discriminatory in both purpose and effect. It concludes that the extent of these violations may constitute international crimes, “in particular crimes against humanity,” requiring “urgent attention by the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system.” Despite Chinese authorities’ expressed commitment to dialogue, they have made every effort to suppress the high commissioner’s report and prevent discussion of its contents. read the complete article

04 Oct 2022

India's internet kill-switch: Grave violations in Kashmir seep into social media

“I was trying to make a film that spoke for Kashmiris silenced by the Indian Government, but instead, the Indian government silenced my voice and ordered YouTube to block my film for viewers in India,” begins Sandeep Ravindranath, a documentary filmmaker. His newly released short film Anthem for Kashmir is a ten-minute presentation of human rights violations in the Kashmir Valley, but although Ravindranath doesn’t know why the Indian Government ordered the social media streaming service to block his film, he says it’s obvious the “government wanted to intimidate me into silence and erase my work.” “A ten-minute short film that threatens the sovereignty, integrity and defence of a mighty nuclear state, evidently,” he scoffed. This is hardly surprising, given India’s plummeting ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, having fallen to 142nd place during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reign, which is built upon the sowing of anti-Muslim animus among the country’s Hindu majority. But what is alarming is the willingness of social media platforms to comply with these anti-democratic demands, particularly with the lives of Muslim minorities on the line, remembering experts have warned of an impending Muslim genocide in India and Kashmir. To put it bluntly – social media platforms are not only becoming a hostile place for Muslims to share stories about their lives, but also a shrinking space for them to engage, politically. read the complete article

04 Oct 2022

How the European far right coopted an Arabic letter

After her right-wing coalition won the September 25 elections in Italy, Giorgia Meloni is set to become the country’s next prime minister. In the lead-up to the vote, there was a lot of media attention focusing on her neo-fascist background and her campaign which recycled the Mussolini-era slogan “God, homeland, family”. But one aspect of her politics has remained relatively under the radar: her cooptation of solidarity with persecuted Middle Eastern Christians and embrace of Middle Eastern dictators. On her Twitter profile, Meloni has added the Arabic letter nuun (ن), which in 2014 became a symbol of solidarity with Christian victims of the armed group ISIL (ISIS) as it took over the Iraqi city of Mosul and ethnically cleansed it of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The group would mark Christian homes with that letter to make it easier to target them. They did so with the first letter of the word Nasrani, or Nazarene, one of the words for Christian in Arabic which references Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth. It is perceived as derogatory by some Arab Christians. By adopting this symbol in 2014, Meloni, like so many others, declared that they are “also Nazarene, also Christians”. On the surface, this could be mistaken for just another online act of solidarity. Indeed, many – myself included – added nuun to their profiles in 2014. Over time, the symbol also expanded to campaigns of solidarity with Christian victims of extremists from Egypt to Nigeria and beyond. We could be forgiven for hoping that a simple, honest campaign of solidarity at a time of horrors would not be co-opted for nefarious purposes. But it happened. The more violent ISIL became, the more the European far right mirrored the extremist group’s “Muslims versus non-Muslims” worldview and smeared Muslims, including refugees, as terrorists. Indeed, despite her “nuun” declaration, the “values” and “identity” Meloni upholds underpin her extreme anti-immigration stance, which denies the rights of Arab Christians (and Muslims), who try to reach Europe seeking asylum. read the complete article

04 Oct 2022

India's divisive politics spill over to UK diaspora community

At the end of August, violent tensions erupted between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester in England's East Midlands region, which has prided itself as being one of the UK's most diverse cities, and a decades-long example of successful integration. Experts have said the violence between the South Asian diaspora at a magnitude never seen before in Leicester has put a spotlight on how India's hotly divided political tensions are exported by social media and inflammatory rhetoric. The unrest on the streets of Leicester coincides with long simmering conflict in India between Hindus and Muslims, which has been exacerbated in recent years as the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government pursues policies critics say marginalize the Muslim minority. The religious rift is also being driven by inflammatory posts on Indian social media. Coinciding with the unrest in Leicester, several unfounded stories involving Hindu extremists kidnapping Muslim children circulated on social media in India. In the UK, Hindu groups on WhatsApp spread rumors that properties in Hindu areas of Leicester were under attack by Muslim mobs. Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby told the press that he has never experienced this level of tension before. "I have talked to many people across the communities since this trouble began, and they are utterly baffled by this. It does not represent anything that is simmering in Leicester, and does seem to have more to do with subcontinental politics," Soulsby told The Independent newspaper in the UK. In India, the events in Leicester were widely reported. However, Geeta Seshu, co-founder of Free Speech Collective, an Indian media think tank, told DW that prominent Indian media outlets were broadcasting inflammatory reports, without any attribution, about Muslim "gangs" attacking Hindus. The Leicester violence was reported on by "partisan media," demanding the Indian government take action to protect Hindus in the UK who were allegedly attacked, Seshu said. read the complete article


04 Oct 2022

A question of equality

On September 22, the Supreme Court concluded hearings on the permissibility of the hijab ban imposed on educational institutions in Karnataka. In a case with far-reaching ramifications, there are fundamental issues that must not be overlooked. One mistake in any debate on the hijab ban is the focus on essentiality. In the Shirur Mutt case (1954), the Supreme Court had proposed the test of essentiality. The idea is that only those practices and rituals “integral to the religion” will be entitled to constitutional protection. This test has since become the bedrock for deciding religious freedom cases. However, the essentially test is flawed. It often compels courts to interpret religious texts. Since judges are not theological experts, this exercise yields problematic results. For instance, a constitutional court is not competent to read the Quran and consider the varying interpretations of how essential the hijab is to Islam. The test is also problematic as it takes the individual out of the equation and solely looks at the association of the practise with the religion — its texts, rituals and concepts. The question we must be primarily concerned with, however, is that of equality. Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees equality before the law and Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds, including sex and religion. The hijab ban is a case of discrimination on the basis of both sex and religion. read the complete article

United Kingdom

04 Oct 2022

Insider threat warning as rising number of far-right extremists flagged in Britain’s armed forces

A rising number of people serving in Britain’s armed forces are being flagged to a counter-terrorism programme over suspected far-right extremism, figures show. Neo-Nazis, white nationalists and anti-Muslim radicals make up the largest known group of extremists in the British army, navy and Royal Air Force. The figures were revealed after a parliamentary committee warned of an “insider threat” to the military from far-right terrorists. In the year to April, at least 10 servicemen and women were reported to Prevent for “extreme right-wing-related activity”, double the number the previous year. Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures, disclosed following a freedom of information request by The Times, show that since 2019 more than 20 referrals have been made over far-right extremism. Around 20 further Prevent reports have been made in the same period, across the categories of Islamist extremism, “no clear ideology” and “counterterrorism-related activity”. The armed services have not flagged anyone over “left-wing, anarchist and single issue” terrorism, or Northern Ireland-related concerns in the past three years. read the complete article


04 Oct 2022

How believers in China keep the faith under Xi Jinping's watchful eye

Under President Xi Jinping, China has tightened its control of religion. Tibetan Buddhists have been arrested for displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama, The Vatican agreed to only appoint bishops who support the party, and online retailers are banned from selling the Bible. In Xinjiang, thousands of mosques have reportedly been demolished, with documented crackdowns on the region's Muslim Uyghur minority. A UN report released in August 2022 found evidence of human rights abuses in Xinjiang that could amount to crimes against humanity. Before Xi Jinping became president, Professor Fenggang Yang says Muslim ethnic minorities had leverage to build more mosques citing cultural purposes. "No other four recognised religions were able to do that." But now, "the cracking down on them is harsher than some of the other religions". In a visit to the region in July, President Xi emphasised that people were free to practice religion – so long as it did not conflict with CCP values. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong tried to stamp out religion completely. "All religious venues were closed down so there was not a single church, or temple, or mosque open for religious activities," says Professor Fenggang Yang. But religion didn't die out – it went "underground". read the complete article


04 Oct 2022

‘Midwives’ Review: An eye-opening look at ethnic divisions in Myanmar by Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing

Midwives is the powerfully eye-opening debut feature documentary from Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing, shot over the course of five tempestuous years amidst the ethnic conflict taking place in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. As we follow the relationship between a Buddhist midwife, Hla, and her Muslim apprentice, Nyo Nyo, the film allows audiences to better understand the oppression facing Rohingya Muslims, who are denied basic rights and referred to as “terrorists” by the majority. The film opens with beautiful aerial shots of fields and temples that are swiftly contrasted by images of a rough makeshift clinic, with young women laid on the floor, exposed to the elements, as they give birth with little pain relief. Here we are introduced to the outspoken yet determined Hla, whose clinic is the only place of care for outcasted Rohingya Muslims in the area. Throughout the documentary, Hla shows multiple sides of herself – sometimes laughing, caring, and making quippy statements; other times, she is genuinely mean, making racist comments towards her assistant Nyo Nyo. The documentary sheds light on the Rakhine State’s methods of indoctrination, showing images of anti-Muslim protests, and suggesting that even the most well-intentioned people like Hla can be swayed by their bigotry. read the complete article


04 Oct 2022

What drives France’s sinister obsession with shutting down mosques?

France has started the process of shutting down the Obernai mosque in the Bas-Rhin area. But this isn’t the first time it has done so. Since 2020, there have been at least 23 reported closures of mosques around the country, in what critics say is a direct action against French Muslims, who make up six percent of the total population. France’s Minister of the Interior and Overseas Gerald Darmanin revealed this on his Twitter, saying, “At the request of the President of the Republic, the fight against Islamist separatism continues. In the past two years, 23 separatist places of worship have been closed.” This growing anti-Muslim sentiment across France’s political spectrum has been a cause of concern for rights activists and organisations. In almost all of the instances of mosque closures, representatives of the mosques say the French government has provided inadequate public evidence about the grounds for their decisions. A Reuters report from earlier this year talks about how an array of powers that rights activists, international organisations – including the United Nations – and members of the Muslim community say give authorities carte blanche to close down places of worship without proper scrutiny and with procedures so opaque the case can’t be overturned. “It’s Kafkaesque,” Fionnuala Ni Aolain, a UN special rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, told the news agency of the legal procedures used in such cases, which can include evidence where the source isn’t identified. “The flirtation with secretive evidence is in itself worrying, but it also breaches provisions in international treaties relating to the right to a fair trial and equality before the law.” read the complete article

Today in Islamophobia, 04 Oct 2022 Edition


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