Coronavirus pandemic being exploited to fuel Islamophobia

Incidents of far-right groups allegedly trying to blame UK Muslims for the spread of the virus were recorded by the hate crime-monitoring group Tell Mama. (Social media)
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Updated 08 April 2020

Coronavirus pandemic being exploited to fuel Islamophobia

  • British counterterrorism police investigating far-right groups for spreading hatred

LONDON: British counterterrorism police are investigating far-right groups accused of using the coronavirus crisis to fuel anti-Muslim sentiment.

Dozens of incidents of far-right groups allegedly trying to blame British Muslims for the spread of the virus were recorded in March by the hate crime-monitoring organization Tell Mama.
It said it had debunked numerous claims made on social media that Muslims were breaching the lockdown by continuing to attend mosques to pray. There were also incidents where Muslims were attacked, it added.
Tommy Robinson, the founder and former leader of the English Defence League, and one of the most prominent far-right figures in the UK, shared a video online that was alleged to show a group of Muslim men leaving a “secret mosque” in inner-city Birmingham. The claims were subsequently dismissed by West Midlands police.
West Yorkshire police similarly dismissed images allegedly showing Muslims attending Friday prayers, pointing out that they were taken before the lockdown was announced.
David Jamieson, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, said counterterrorism police were looking into reports that right-wing groups were trying to use the pandemic to create division. “It’s something we are monitoring very closely,” he added.
In one incident reported to Tell Mama, a Muslim woman said she was approached by a man in Croydon, south London, who coughed in her face and claimed he had coronavirus. The incident was reported to the Metropolitan Police.
The woman, who wears a hijab, said she tried to avoid her attacker, but the man turned toward her and “got in her face.”
She told him she had already contracted the virus and recovered, and was therefore immune, after which he swore at her and racially abused her before leaving.
The Metropolitan Police acknowledged that coronavirus had played a role in hate crimes in recent weeks, telling Arab News: “People of certain ethnicities and cultural backgrounds have been targeted in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.” The “deplorable” incidents, it said, have taken place “in the real world and online,” and involved “physical violence in a small number of cases.”
Shaista Aziz, a journalist and anti-racism campaigner, told Arab News that the targeting of women in these crimes is “no accident.”
She said: “In the last few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the far right in the UK. Their No. 1 rallying call is hatred of Muslims, and a lot of it is gendered Islamophobia: It’s targeting particularly women who wear the hijab and the niqab.”

BACKGROUND

A Muslim woman said she was approached by a man in Croydon, south London, who coughed in her face and claimed he had coronavirus.

She added: “It isn’t unexpected, it’s horrifying, and it just shows how an international crisis like this pandemic is being further weaponized by people with a warped ideology.”
Iman Atta, director of Tell Mama, said: “These extremists are using coronavirus to get their pervasive message across that somehow the Muslim communities are to blame for the spreading of the virus.
“It is mainly repeat offenders — individuals who are already known to hold anti-Muslim views — who are repeatedly seeing this as a way to cause community turmoil and tension. It is at times like this when there are pressures in society that some people manipulate this to fuel hate and division across communities.”
One such example of high-profile far-right figures exploiting the crisis is Katie Hopkins — notorious for her inflammatory and frequently Islamophobic messaging.
Hopkins shared a video of police in India assaulting Muslims for congregating at a mosque, and tagged Humberside Police.
She wrote: “Indian police assisting young ‘men of peace’ to disperse from crowded mosque during lockdown. Something to aspire to hey @Humberbeat?”
Dr. Rakib Ehsan, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank, explained why figures such as Hopkins have been so quick to seize on the pandemic in their messaging. “While the concerned many see the COVID-19 pandemic as a devastating global crisis, it’s being welcomed with open arms by far-right extremists,” he told Arab News.
“In times of insecurity and anxiety, extremists think this is the time to target an individual group — people are looking for answers and someone to blame,” he added.
“The far-right weaponization of COVID-19 poses a serious challenge for public authorities across the Western world.”


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”