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.”


Afghan government airstrikes kill 24 civilians – witnesses

Updated 4 min 24 sec ago

Afghan government airstrikes kill 24 civilians – witnesses

  • Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province is Taliban controlled
  • Villagers say initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter

KABUL: Government airstrikes in the north of Afghanistan killed 24 civilians, including children, and wounded six others, witnesses told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The two witnesses contacted by the AP said that most of those killed in Saturday’s airstrikes, which struck the village of Sayed Ramazan in northern Kunduz province, were civilians. The Khanabad district in the province where the village is located is Taliban controlled.
The Afghan Defense Ministry, however, said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters, but added an investigation was being held into claims that civilians were among those killed.
The airstrikes come as Taliban and government-appointed negotiators are meeting for the first time in Qatar to discuss the future of Afghanistan and an end to decades of war and conflict.
Villagers said an initial airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter, whose home doubled as a check post that stops and frisks people to ensure they are not connected to the government. The explosion set fire to a nearby home, trapping a family inside, said Latif Rahmani who witnessed the airstrikes.
Speaking to the AP by phone, Rahmani said farmers and villagers ran to douse the fire and rescue trapped family members inside when a second airstrike hit, killing many of them.
Rahmani, who said he was working on his house at the time of the airstrike, warned his neighbors against running toward the burning buildings for fear of a second airstrike.
“I yelled at people and told them not to go because maybe there would be another bombing, but they ran to help and to put out the fire,” Rahmani said.
A second witness in the area, Kalamuddin, who like many Afghans uses just one name, said the lone Taliban fighter living in the house that was initially hit had been killed. He said five children were among the 24 civilians that had been killed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the airstrikes and said the Taliban had no military operations in the area at the time of the airstrike.
The United Nations has harshly criticized both sides in the conflict for the relentless killing of civilians in Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The peace talks in Qatar are part of a US brokered deal with the Taliban that will eventually lead to US withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
In early July, Afghan national army personnel fired mortars into a busy market in southern Helmand, killing 23 people. The Defense Ministry is still investigating the incident.
Also Saturday, at least six rockets were fired at NATO’s Resolute Support base in southern Kandahar. No casualties were reported and no one claimed responsibility. NATO said in a statement that if the Taliban were behind the rocket fire, it could jeopardize the US peace deal in which the Taliban have promised not to attack US and NATO forces.