Coronavirus pandemic being exploited to fuel Islamophobia

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

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.”


Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC
Updated 40 min 11 sec ago

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC

Iranian militias claim to have active cells in Washington DC
  • Additional claims that terror factions associated with Iran are growing stronger and attracting more support

DUBAI: Iranian militia groups have active cells operating in the US capital Washington DC and other US cities, according to chatrooms used by the groups.
Kawtheryoon Electronic Team, a Telegram network used by Iranian militia groups and supporters, claimed in a recent posting that Iranian “resistance cells are rooted even in America and its capital,” Fox News reported, citing a copy of the English-language posting captured by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which tracks radical groups.
The militia additionally claimed that terror factions associated with Iran are growing stronger and attracting more support than ever before, as they demanded a withdraw all of American troops from Iraq and the Middle East.
The Telegram post included a picture of caskets containing US soldiers, Fox News said.
The claims of Iranian terrorist cells being present in the US comes as the Biden administration seeks to directly engage Iran in pursuit of inking a revamped nuclear accord.
President Joe Biden has earlier said Iran must cut its uranium enrichment before any return to talks over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program.
Iran nonetheless continues to sponsor terrorism, Fox News reported, and has shown no signs of backing down from its active operations in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern hotspots.
It also has continued to support strikes on US personnel stationed in Iraq, and was likely behind a Wednesday rocket attack on an Iraqi air base that houses American troops, it added.


Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott
Updated 06 March 2021

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott

Pakistani PM wins vote of confidence amidst opposition protest, boycott
  • Khan was able to secure 178 votes, against the 172 required to win confidence
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan won a vote of confidence from parliament on Saturday in a session marked by opposition boycott and protest.
Khan was able to secure 178 votes, against the 172 required to win confidence, the speaker of the house announced.
Khan had himself volunteered to seek parliament’s confidence after the government’s finance minister lost a high-profile Senate seat election earlier in the week.

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
Updated 06 March 2021

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths

Russia reports 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, 441 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,022 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,820 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,312,181 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 441 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 88,726.


Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade
Updated 06 March 2021

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade

Indian farmers mark 100th day of protest with road blockade
  • Farmers stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage
  • The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers blocked a massive expressway on the edges of New Delhi on Saturday to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws they say will devastate their income.
Farmers stood on tractors and waved colorful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.
Thousands of them have hunkered down outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to voice their anger against three laws passed by Parliament last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the laws are necessary to modernize agriculture but farmers say they will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.
Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers’ Front, said the blockade would last five hours. “It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do?” said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.
The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon run into problems.
For 100 days, Karnal Singh, has lived inside the back of a trailer along a vast stretch of arterial highway that connects India’s north with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now, the city is bracing for scorching summer temperatures that can hit 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
But Singh, like many other farmers, is unfazed and plans to stay until the laws are completely withdrawn.
“We are not going anywhere and will fight till the end,” Singh, 60, said on Friday, as he sat cross-legged inside a makeshift shelter in the back of his truck.
The mood at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was boisterous on Friday, with many farmers settling into their surroundings for the long haul.
Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers thronged both sides of the highway and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, fitted with water coolers in preparation for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also being installed in some trailers.
Farmers say the protests will spread across the country soon. The government, however, is hoping many of them will return home once India’s major harvesting season begins at the end of the month.
Karanbir Singh dismissed such concerns. He said their community, including friends and neighbors back in the villages, would tend to farms while he and others carried on with the protests.
“We’ll help each other to make sure no farm goes unharvested,” Singh said.
But not all farmers are against the laws. Pawan Kumar, a fruit and vegetable grower and ardent Modi supporter, said he was ready to give them a chance.
“If they (the laws) turn out to not benefit us, then we will protest again,” he said. “We will jam roads, and make that protest even bigger. Then more common people, even workers, will join. But if they turn out to be beneficial for us, we will keep them.”
Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed to end the stalemate. The farmers have rejected an offer from the government to put the laws on hold for 18 months, saying they want a complete repeal.
The legislation is not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops — a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.
Farmers also fear that the legislation signals the government is moving away from a system in which an overwhelming majority of farmers sell only to government-sanctioned marketplaces. They worry this will leave them at the mercy of corporations that will have no legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price anymore.


Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action
Updated 06 March 2021

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action

Protests, tear gas in Myanmar after UN envoy urges action
  • Myanmar has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1
  • More than 50 protesters have been killed, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener tells UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations special envoy on Myanmar called on the UN Security Council to take action against the ruling junta after the killings of protesters who have continued to defy security forces at demonstrations against last month’s coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with daily protests and strikes that have choked business and paralyzed administration.
More than 50 protesters have been killed according to the United Nations — at least 38 on Wednesday alone. Protesters demand the release of Suu Kyi and the respect of November’s election, which her party won in landslide, but which the army rejected.
“How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?” Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told a closed meeting of the 15-member UN Security Council on Friday, according to a copy of her remarks seen by Reuters.
“It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results.”
A junta spokesman did not answer calls requesting comment.
The army says it has been restrained in stopping the protests, but has said it will not allow them to threaten stability.
On Saturday, in the southern town of Dawei, protesters chanted “Democracy is our cause” and “The revolution must prevail.” Protesters were also gathering in the biggest city, Yangon.
People have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands at times, vowing to continue action in a country that spent nearly half a century under military rule until democratic reforms in 2011 that were cut short by the coup.
“Political hope has begun to shine. We can’t lose the momentum of the revolution,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook. “Those who dare to fight will have victory. We deserve victory.”
At least one man was killed by security forces in protests on Friday. An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) and his teenage nephew were also stabbed to death by military supporters, local media reported.

Outrage
The killing of protesters has drawn international outrage.
“Use of violence against the people of Myanmar must stop now,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in a tweet, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and for the restoration of democracy.
The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and independent UN human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, has called for a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions.
But in an effort to preserve council unity on Myanmar, diplomats said sanctions were unlikely to be considered anytime soon as such measures would probably be opposed by China and Russia, which have veto powers.
“All parties should exercise utmost calm and restraint,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said, according to remarks released after the UN meeting. “We don’t want to see instability, even chaos in Myanmar.”
The army took power over allegations of fraud in last year’s election which had been dismissed by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date.
That plan is rejected by protesters and by a group representing lawmakers elected at the last election that has begun to issue statements in the name of a rival civilian administration.
On Friday, it listed four demands — the end of the junta, the release of the detainees, democracy and the abolition of the 2008 constitution which left significant political representation and control in the hands of the military.
Instead, it said Myanmar should have a federal constitution — an appeal to the ethnic groups in the country’s borderlands which have chafed under domination of the Bamar majority both under the military and Suu Kyi’s party.
On Friday, thousands of people rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the ethnic armed groups engaged in long-running wars.
During the rally — the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.