Rise of anti-immigrant parties compounds problems for Europe’s Muslims

Rise of anti-immigrant parties compounds problems for Europe’s Muslims
Men pray in the ‘jungle,’ the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, northern France, in 2016, a year after Europe’s refugee crisis peaked. (AFP)
Updated 28 July 2019

Rise of anti-immigrant parties compounds problems for Europe’s Muslims

Rise of anti-immigrant parties compounds problems for Europe’s Muslims
  • Constructive debate on pluralism, migrants and asylum seekers delayed by continent's rightward lurch
  • European Muslims and migrant communities left on uncertain ground by political gains made by rightwing parties

ABU DHABI: The seemingly unstoppable rise of anti-establishment political forces in recent years has added a new layer of complication to Europe’s immigration question. 

The results of May’s European Parliament elections revealed the true extent of the popularity of far-right, nationalist parties, all but ruling out constructive debates on the politically sensitive topic of migrants and asylum seekers as well as the grievances of minority groups, of whom Muslims happen to be the most prominent.

The gains made by right-wing and populist nationalist parties in the European Parliament elections have left Muslims of European countries and the (mostly Muslim) communities of migrants and refugees on uncertain ground. In the absence of political will to engage with the communities concerned, it is difficult to see how the EU can address both the migrant issue and the Muslim question in a fair manner.

For the first time in 40 years, previously dominant center-right and center-left blocs no longer hold a majority in the European Parliament. Centrist parties have suffered political reverses across all member states, especially in their traditional strongholds of Germany and France. Migration has turned out to be a decisive factor — and the bane of the continent’s established political parties — from the refugee crisis of 2015 all the way to this year’s elections.

Even European countries that had long been seen as reliable bastions of centrist politics failed to defy the upsurge of populist nationalism. UKIP grabbed 31.7 percent of votes cast in Britain in the European Parliament elections, while in France the far-right National Rally took 23.2 percent. In Italy, the Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini, won 33.43 percent, up from a mere 6.2 percent in the 2014 elections. Elsewhere in Europe, Hungary’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party, which vowed to further tighten the country’s rules on migration, rolled up impressive gains with 52 percent.

Despite steadily decreasing arrivals to Europe and a substantial difference in the “immigration and asylum” situation between 2015 and 2019, many European governments remain deadlocked on a planned revision of the EU’s immigration policy. In March 2019, EU interior ministers attending a European Council meeting tried but failed to iron out their differences, kicking the immigration can further down the road.

In the popular imagination, hostility to immigrants and asylum seekers is associated with Europe’s far-right groups, but the general tenor of the continent’s political discourse points to a hardening of positions across the spectrum. In recent times, especially during the election season, mainstream political parties and their stalwarts have taken to fear-mongering and touting harsh measures to limit or dissuade migration.

Violence against Muslims reached a peak in the run-up to the enactment of the anti-hijab laws in several European countries. Austria approved a hijab ban in primary schools, while the French Senate voted to ban mothers who wear the hijab from accompanying their children on school trips. In 2018, up to 580 anti-Muslim attacks took place in Germany alone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have been among the few European leaders to welcome large numbers of political refugees, but even she now says some of the migration policies are problematic. The growing appeal of anti-immigrant parties could be a factor behind the new-found necessity of politicians of even Merkel’s stature to sound tough on immigration. Whatever the real reason, such rhetoric does little to address the underlying problems, much less to resolve them.

“There are ongoing policies against Muslims (in Europe). Since 2008, we have seen the rise of populism — not only right-wing but also left-wing populism,” said Belgium’s Mahinur Ozdemir, the youngest and the first hijab-wearing member of the European Parliament. “Traditional parties, as they become unable to answer the people’s needs through traditional ways, instead of getting more democratized, get more populist and grasp racist rhetoric.”

Ironically, the change in the political rhetoric has coincided with a sharp fall in the number of migrants and refugees making it to the continent’s shores. In January 2019, arrivals to Europe were at their lowest in five years; the peak was reached during the 2015 refugee crisis with more than 1 million arrivals. In the first three months of 2019, applications for just over 10,200 refugees were submitted by the UNHCR for resettlement in 17 EU member states.

According to the UNHCR, this is one-third of the total applications submitted in 2018, and 60 percent of the average rate of 16,960 applications per year during the previous 10 years. Since the beginning of 2019, six EU countries — Germany, Sweden, France, Norway, the UK and the Netherlands — have received 81 percent of all resettlement applications. 

In the run-up to the European Council meeting in March, the European Commission (EC) reviewed the progress made since the 2015 refugee crisis. Frans Timmermans, the EC’s first vice president, noted that “while the EU is no longer experiencing the migration crisis, there are structural problems within its policies that ought to be urgently addressed in moving forward.”


PARTY POSITIONS

• European People’s Party: Tighter border controls, quicker repatriation

Party of European Socialists: Safe paths to fight irregular migration

Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists for Europe:  Migration is a national matter

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe: Outsourcing to third countries

European Left: Legal paths and cooperation

Greens: Fair asylum policy, European sea-rescue missions


The Dutch diplomat’s statement could be interpreted as an acknowledgement of a lack of consistency in Europe’s immigration policy, with talk of safe passage, human rights and greater cooperation going hand in hand with a regime of tighter border controls. Between the two extremes, there are some political parties that are eager to export the continent’s migration problems to third countries, with the controversial Malta agreement between Italy and Libya’s Government of National Accord serving as a viable template.

None of this is to say that attempts to address what Timmermans called “structural problems” are doomed to failure. For all the ethnic cleansing, genocide and institutional discrimination to which Muslims of Europe have been subjected since the outbreak of brutal wars in the former Yugoslavia, Islam is deeply woven into Europe’s tapestry of many different religions. Since the end of World War II, vibrant new Muslim communities came into existence as a result of guest-worker programs and the arrival of people fleeing political persecution.

The countries that have taken in the largest number of Muslim refugees all happen to have a thriving network of Muslim civic organizations and youth platforms. Platforms catering to the needs of Muslims set up by young European Muslims, such as the London-based the Muslim Vibe, Brussels-based Mvslim.com and Paris-based Oumma.com, are trying to give a voice to the European Muslim community, including Muslim refugees. These platforms see themselves as being run by staff who are representative of their audience and conscious of the growing presence of Muslim communities in Europe in all fields except policy-making.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2008 underscored the respect that Muslims have for Europe’s democratic institutions. Muslim respondents are likely, sometimes more likely than the general public, to  express confidence in official institutions. For instance, two-thirds of Muslims in London (64 percent) said they had confidence in the UK government, compared with just 36 percent of the British public. At the same time, Muslims in three of the Europe’s largest capitals (69 percent in London, 66 percent in Paris, 87 percent in Berlin) felt that their communities should be more involved in politics.

Yet, political representation remains woefully unrepresentative of the Muslim population’s size, needs and expectations. In the European Parliament, there were only seven Muslim MEPs out of 751 before the May elections. Such poor political representation of the continent’s second-largest religious group would seem shocking in itself. But it looks even more unjustifiable considering that Muslims are expected to make up more than 4 percent of Europe’s population by 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.

The political landscape after the European Parliament elections reveals the polarization of society between non-Muslim and Muslim Europeans in many countries. Until now, EU members have managed to get away with treating the vexing immigration question in the same way as the Muslim question — by avoiding it. But it is past time for European governments to appreciate the diversity of Muslim views and issues and treat the community as trusted partners. While Muslims have certainly not introduced pluralism to Europe, their presence is a stark reminder of the continent’s failure to practice it.


Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’
Updated 13 min 50 sec ago

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’
  • The Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said this week

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia and Indonesia on Saturday called on the UN Security Council to intervene and stop Israel’s strikes on Gaza, as the conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants raged on.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that in a phone conversation with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, both leaders agreed that Israel’s “despicable actions” must be stopped immediately.

“We were of similar views that the international community, especially the United Nations Security Council, should act swiftly to cease all forms of violence committed by Israel, and save the lives of Palestinians,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.

“To date, the UN Security Council has not issued any statement on the current situation in Palestine due to opposition from the United States of America,” he said.

Malaysia has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, pushing for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

The Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said this week. The 15-member council has met privately this week about the worst hostilities in the region in years, but has so far been unable to agree on a public statement, diplomats said.

Iran’s foreign minister canceled a visit with his Austrian counterpart to show displeasure that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government had flown the Israeli flag in Vienna in a show of solidarity, the Austrian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was supposed to meet Alexander Schallenberg but had called off the trip, a spokeswoman for Schallenberg said, confirming a report in newspaper Die Presse.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Iranian minister cancels Austrian visit over Israeli flag.

• Morocco to send 40 tons of aid to Palestinians.

• Egypt sends ambulances to evacuate Gaza wounded.

“We regret this and take note of it, but for us it is as clear as day that when Hamas fires more than 2,000 rockets at civilian targets in Israel then we will not remain silent,” the spokeswoman said.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the semi-official news agency ISNA: “Mr. Zarif did not consider the trip beneficial in these circumstances, and therefore the travel arrangements were not finalized.”

The dispute comes during talks in Vienna to try to revive a 2015 accord with western powers in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. 

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has ordered 40 tons of aid for Palestinians to be shipped to the West Bank and Gaza following recent violence.

The aid includes food, medicine and blankets and will be carried by military aircraft, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Morocco also denounced “the violent acts perpetrated in occupied Palestinian territories,” and reiterated support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Morocco resumed ties with Israel in December as part of a deal brokered by the US that also includes Washington’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow 10 ambulances to transport Palestinians seriously wounded in Israeli airstrikes to Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.

Egypt “exceptionally opened the Rafah crossing to allow 10 Egyptian ambulances into the Gaza Strip to transport wounded Palestinians ... to be treated in Egypt,” a medical official said.

The grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, has launched a campaign on social media in “support the Palestinian people.” Stop the killing, he said.

“Enough with silence and double standards if we are really working toward peace.”


Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’
Updated 16 May 2021

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’
  • Tradition risks being lost as lamb stocks deplete and anger grows over ‘pelt peeling’

KABUL: For generations, the pelts of newborn karakul lambs were one of Afghanistan’s major export items, sought after at home and abroad to produce the iconic caps worn by rulers, statesmen and trend-setters — prized fashion items that sold for up to $3,000 each.

However, in recent years, there has been a drastic decline in demand for the eye-catching headwear due to the special breed of sheep that produces the pelt becoming endangered.

“In the past 10 years, the industry has gone bankrupt. There is no market for it now,” Mohammad Salim Saee, head of the agriculture department of northern Balkh, one of the key production areas of karakul sheep, told Arab News.

At its peak in the 1970s, the volume of karakul sheepskin exports to the West stood at 10 million pieces, he said, adding: “You cannot compare it in terms of the percentage now with what we used to produce and export.”

It is now difficult to find a single shop selling karakul sheepskins among the dozens of stores lining the famous avenue of Shahe-Do-Shamshera in the Afghan capital Kabul, where former president Hamid Karzai used to source his trademark hats.

The karakul cap became so synonymous with Karzai that US designer Tom Ford once named him “the chicest man on the planet” for his sartorial choice.

Besides Karzai, regional leaders such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and other rulers in Central Asia and across Russia have been seen donning the popular fashion accessory.

Mohammad Aref, head of the agency for karakul production in Balkh, said that Afghanistan exported almost 500,000 skins to the West and across the region just four years ago.

However, there has been a gradual decline in volume since then, with just 17,000 pieces exported to Uzbekistan last year.

Mirwais Ibrahimi, a karakul trader in Balkh, said: “Until a few years ago, 280 shops were selling karakul skins, but now only three or four are left.”

He traces the decline to growing opposition, both at home and abroad, to the “barbaric” practice of ripping the skin off newborn lambs to source the fur.

“In Afghanistan and abroad, the killing of the newborn lamb is regarded as a cruel act. That is why there isn’t much desire for it as there was some years ago,” he told Arab News.

Soon after the birth of a lamb, dealers peel the pelt from its skin before it is fed by the ewe, “because it affects the quality of the skin.”

Rahmat Shah, a dealer in Jowjzan, another key karakul region, said: “Some butchers in the past would even cut through the abdomen of a pregnant sheep to take its baby, but the practice was stopped as it was considered too cruel.”

Kazim Hamayoun, a senior official in Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, said that no regulation or law bans the practice, “which is a concern.”

He added: “Indeed, it is a major concern. The younger a karakul, the higher its value, and the quality of the fur will be finer, too. It is a serious threat to wildlife.

“We do not have anything preventing this — no law or directive. We have distributed leaflets informing dealers about it, but have not done a poll to determine its impact. We hope to launch a national dialogue on this.”

However, Shah lamented the loss of business and the end of an Afghan tradition.

“There is no business at all. We do not know how we and the government can save this industry and tradition from being buried in history forever.”

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Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll
Updated 16 May 2021

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll
  • Daily deaths across country stay near 4,000 as total cases reach 24.37m

KOLKATA: An Indian state stricken by coronavirus after mass rallies were held for a key election ordered a two-week lockdown on Saturday in a bid to halt the spread.

All offices, stores and public transport in West Bengal were told to close for 15 days after the region reported its biggest spike yet in deaths and infections.

West Bengal along with a host of southern states are bearing the brunt of a COVID-19 surge in India that has taken the nation’s infection total to nearly 25 million with more than 265,000 deaths.

The strain of the virus responsible has been declared a variant of “global concern” by the World Health Organization.

West Bengal accounted for 21,000 of India’s 326,000 new cases reported on Saturday and hospitals in the state say they are swamped with patients.

In the past 24 hours, India tally of COVID-19 cases reached 24.37 million, with 3,890 deaths, for a toll of 266,207, Health Ministry data shows.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew tens of thousands of people to rallies in the region last month ahead of state elections in which his ruling nationalist party failed to unseat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee also staged major rallies ahead of the polls and on Friday her brother died from coronavirus in hospital.

Many experts have said the election campaign was a “super-spreader.”

In the resort state of Goa, more than 70 people have died in four days from medical oxygen shortages at hospitals, an opposition party in the region said.

A court ordered emergency supplies of oxygen to be sent to Goa Medical College Hospital to prevent more deaths.

The state’s main opposition party said the patients died from a lack of oxygen but the government said the cause of death had not been determined.

Goa authorities nevertheless said they had asked the central government to nearly double the state’s oxygen supply to 40 tons per day.

Coronavirus restrictions in Goa had been relatively relaxed until the current wave of infections. 

The virus is now causing more than 60 deaths a day in the region and Goa has one of India’s highest infection rates.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s chief said India was a huge concern, with the second year of the pandemic set to be more deadly than the first.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s remarks to an online meeting came after Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the disease through the vast countryside.

India reported its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in nearly three weeks on Saturday, with deaths still near the 4,000-mark, but federal health officials said cases and fatalities are rapidly stabilizing in this wave
of the pandemic.

The overall rate of positive cases per tests had dipped to 19.8 percent this week from 21.9 percent last week, federal health officials said in a briefing, but warned that cautiousness must continue.

The slow growth may also reflect test rates that are at their lowest since May 9.

Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS Hospital in Delhi, warned that secondary infections like mucormycosis or “black fungus” were adding to India’s mortality rate with states having reported more than 500 cases recently in COVID-19 patients with diabetes.

Earlier in the day, Modi told officials to focus on distributing resources including oxygen supplies in the hard-hit rural areas, according to a government statement.

He also called for more testing in India’s vast countryside, which is witnessing a rapid spread of the virus, it added.

Four thousand WHO-supported oxygen concentrators arrived in Delhi on Saturday and will be rushed to states over the next 2-3 days to support the COVID-19 response, Tedros tweeted.

During the past week, the south Asian nation has added about 1.7 million new cases and more than 20,000 deaths in a second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and medical staff.


Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
Updated 16 May 2021

Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
  • Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises

TOKYO: Dozens of Japanese, American and French troops landed amid pouring rain from a CH-47 transport helicopter onto a grassy field at a training area in southern Japan, part of Saturday’s joint scenario of defending a remote island from an enemy invasion.

The three nations’ first joint drills on Japanese soil — dubbed “ARC21” and which began on Tuesday — come as they seek step up military ties amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Japanese soldiers and their counterparts from the French army and the US Marine Corps also conducted an urban warfare drill using a concrete building elsewhere at the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s Kirishima Training Area in the southern Miyazaki prefecture. 

Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises.

On Saturday, the three countries were also joined by Australia in an expanded naval exercise involving 11 warships in the East China Sea, where tensions with China are rising around the island of Taiwan.

The drills come as Japan looks to bolster its military capabilities amid a deepening territorial row with China in regional seas. 

Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in and around Japanese-claimed waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.

Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has limited the use of force to self defense. 

Japan in recent years has continued to expand its military role, capability and budget.

Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who observed the exercise, stressed the significance of French participation in the joint exercises regularly held between Japan and the US, and often with Australia.

“It was a valuable opportunity for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to maintain and strengthen its strategic capability necessary to defend our remote islands,” Nakayama said. 

“Together we were able to show to the rest of the world our commitment in defending Japanese land, territorial seas and airspace.”

France, which has territories in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, has strategic interests in the region.

“It is obviously very important for us because we need to be side by side with people who are sharing this part of the world,” Lt. Col. Henri Marcaillou from the French army told reporters after Saturday’s exercise.

US Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson said the three countries showed they can work together “for a common goal or common cause.”

Britain, which recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region, is sending the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group, due to arrive in the region later this year. 

Germany is also set to deploy a frigate to the region.

Japan and the US have been promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific vision of defense and economic framework based on democratic principles in the area in a group known as the Quad, which also includes Australia and India, seen as a move to counter China’s escalating influence in the region.

China has criticized the US-Japanese framework as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.


UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
Updated 15 May 2021

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
  • ‘Targeting of media offices in Gaza completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right’

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday branded an Israeli airstrike that leveled a media building in Gaza as “completely unacceptable,” as up to 100,000 protesters marched through central London to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The high-rise building, which hosted offices for journalists from international outlets such as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, was destroyed on Saturday afternoon.

The strike leveled the building an hour after people were told to evacuate. It followed an earlier Israeli attack in Gaza City that killed eight children and two other Palestinians from an extended family.

“The targeting of media offices in Gaza by Israeli air strikes is completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right,” said Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy.

“The devastating escalation of violence — including Hamas rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and air strikes on the Gaza City refugee camp — has cost more civilian lives and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” she added.

“The UK must join our international partners in calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to all rocket attacks and air strikes, and work with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prevent this dangerous situation deteriorating further.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott told the crowd at the London demonstration: “We must remember we’re part of an international movement. This is a worldwide movement for justice.”

She added: “Palestinian people are having their land seized ... and they’re now being killed in their homes. All of this is illegal.”