India softens toward Muslims after Islamophobia outcry

A Muslim man, among 29 people arrested by Indian authorities, walks towards an ambulance before being taken to a prison from a quarantine center in Prayagraj. (Files/AP)
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Updated 29 April 2020

India softens toward Muslims after Islamophobia outcry

  • Growing attacks on Muslims undermine India’s positive image, says analyst

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has called for unity and religious harmony after an international outcry over increasing Islamophobia in the country.

The Muslim outreach attempts began after influential figures in the Arab world objected to the government blaming an event organized by the religious missionary group the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) for “contributing to a 30 percent rise in the coronavirus cases” in India.
On Sunday the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s paternal organization and masthead of Hindu rightwing nationalism, called upon people to “come together and fight the menace of coronavirus jointly.”
“All 130 crore Indians are our family,” said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. “We are one. We should not blame the entire community for the mistake of a few individuals. People who are more mature in both communities should come forward and start a dialogue to remove prejudices among people’s minds.”
A day earlier Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted Muslims on the start of Ramadan.
“I pray for everyone’s safety, well-being and prosperity,” he tweeted. “May this Holy Month bring with it abundance of kindness, harmony and compassion. May we achieve a decisive victory in the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and create a healthier planet.”
Blaming TJ placed New Delhi’s carefully cultivated relationship with the Middle East under the microscope after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly disapproved of hate speech by Indian nationals accusing the missionary group of deliberately exacerbating the pandemic.
Princess Hend Al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, reprimanded an Indian expatriate in Dubai for targeting Muslims and blaming the TJ for the spread of the outbreak.

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Princess Hend Al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, reprimanded an Indian expatriate in Dubai for targeting Muslims for the spread of the outbreak.

She shared a UAE law which banned hate speech, adding that anyone who was “openly racist and discriminatory” in the UAE would be fined and made to leave.
She further stressed the need “to reject hatred and replace it with love on earth to live together.”
On Friday, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar called his counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and reassured them about the situation in India.
“Pandemics further highlight the need for international cooperation,” he tweeted after the talks. “Few better examples than our relationship with #UAE. Applaud the generosity of spirit and clarity of policy that has characterised its approach. Thank HH @ABZayed for the warm conversation.”
Analysts said that such strong reactions from the Gulf countries were “causing anxiety” in the government.
“This is the first time in many years that we are witnessing a trenchant reaction coming from the Arab world about the happenings in India,” Sanjay Kapoor, editor of English magazine Hardnews, told Arab News. “It is unusual and is causing anxiety in the government as well amongst all those who do business with the Gulf. Modi has to be wise in how he deals with the Arab world, not just due to the remittances that the workers send, but much of its politics in that region is linked to the support that Saudi provides.”
Prof. Sujata Ashwarya, of New Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia University, said that the growing Islamophobia in India undermined the positive image of India in the Muslim world.
“The consequences could be grave,” she told Arab News. “Once you lose your touch, it is difficult to get that back easily. Soft power is the twin of hard power.”


Democracy books disappear from Hong Kong libraries

Updated 04 July 2020

Democracy books disappear from Hong Kong libraries

  • Among the authors whose titles are no longer available are Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent young activists, and Tanya Chan, a well known pro-democracy lawmaker
  • China’s authoritarian leaders say the powers will restore stability after a year of pro-democracy protests, will not stifle freedoms and will only target a “very small minority”

HONG KONG: Books written by prominent Hong Kong democracy activists have started to disappear from the city’s libraries, online records show, days after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law on the finance hub.
Among the authors whose titles are no longer available are Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent young activists, and Tanya Chan, a well known pro-democracy lawmaker.
Beijing’s new national security law was imposed on Tuesday and is the most radical shift in how the semi-autonomous city is run since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
China’s authoritarian leaders say the powers will restore stability after a year of pro-democracy protests, will not stifle freedoms and will only target a “very small minority.”
But it has already sent fear coursing through a city used to speaking openly, with police arresting people for possessing slogans pushing independence or greater autonomy and businesses scrambling to remove protest displays.
Wong said he believed the removal of the books was sparked by the security law.
“White terror continues to spread, the national security law is fundamentally a tool to incriminate speech,” he wrote on Facebook, using a phrase that refers to political persecution.
Searches on the public library website showed at least three titles by Wong, Chan and local scholar Chin Wan are no longer available for lending at any of dozens of outlets across the city.
An AFP reporter was unable to find the titles at a public library in the district of Wong Tai Sin on Saturday afternoon.
The city’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs libraries, said books had been removed while it is determined whether they violate the national security law.
“In the process of the review the books will not be available for borrowing and reference,” it said.
The law targets acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
China says it will have jurisdiction in some cases and empowered its security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, ending the legal firewall between the two.
Rights groups and legal analysts say the broad wording of the law — which was kept secret until it was enacted — outlaws certain political views, even if expressed peacefully.
Any promotion of independence or greater autonomy appears to be banned by the legislation. Another vaguely worded provision bans inciting hatred toward the Chinese or Hong Kong government.
On the authoritarian mainland, similar national security laws are routinely used to crush dissent.
The new security law and the removal of books raises questions of whether academic freedom still exists.
Hong Kong has some of Asia’s best universities and a campus culture where topics that would be taboo on the mainland are still discussed and written about.
But Beijing has made clear it wants education in the city to become more “patriotic” especially after a year of huge, often violent and largely youth-led pro-democracy protests.