Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides

Special Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides
Arab store owners said that they believe Lightfoot is motivated in part by racism against Arabs and Muslims. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 September 2021

Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides

Arab business owners accuse Chicago of wrongly linking them to rising gun homicides
  • More than 100 Arab-owned businesses have been shut down by city authorities in the past two months over minor code violations.
  • Owners say mayor Lori Lightfoot is closing their businesses in the mistaken belief it will stem a record surge in street gang violence and killings.

CHICAGO: Alderman Raymond Lopez said on Monday that city council members are reviewing allegations made by more than 50 Arab American and Muslim small-business owners against Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s business inspection department.

At a press conference held at an Arab-owned business closed by the city for more than 52 days at 79th and Western on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Arab and Muslim business operators claimed that the city was intentionally seeking to shut down their businesses.

Arab store owners said that they believe Lightfoot is motivated in part by racism against Arabs and Muslims, but is also closing the stores in the mistaken belief that it might reduce the city’s skyrocketing street gang murder rate.

“Today I joined nearly two dozen business owners who feel they have been unfairly targeted by racist tactics supposedly focused on reducing gang violence in Chicago,” Lopez, the alderman of the 15th ward, told the gathering of 25 Arab and Muslim store owners.

“Sadly, two days after mayor Lightfoot declared that 9/11 gave rise to much anti-Arab hatred in America, she herself, in declaring war on gang terrorists, is also targeting Arab business owners in mostly African-American communities.”

He added: “Lightfoot is once again showing she does not understand how to address violence in a nuanced manner, instead choosing blanket policies that target entire demographics and play on local stereotypes.”

Last weekend, Chicago saw 56 shootings and eight fatalities. On the previous Labor Day weekend, 75 people were shot and eight killed, including one police officer. As of Sept. 1, 2021, Chicago police reported 524 gun-related deaths and 2,344 shootings.

Hassan Nijem, president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, was joined at the press conference by 18 Arab, Asian and Muslim business owners whose stores have been closed for between one week and three months.

Closures are driven by a combination of “racism and the city’s uncontrolled and skyrocketing violence,” he said.

“This week, Americans joined together to commemorate one of the worst attacks on the US by foreign terrorists 20 years ago, and officials across the country, including here in Chicago, repeated their concerns that Americans should not take out their anger on Arabs or Muslims,” Nijem said.

“And yet, right here in Chicago, we believe that mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city have engaged in exactly that, targeting Arabs, Muslims and people who look Arab, including Asian Americans, and discriminating against them, singling us out for punishment and reprisal because of who we are.”

Nijem said the business owners are asking the city council to convene a special investigation into the actions of the mayor’s task force, arguing that in addition to harming business owners financially it is depriving the city, county and state of sales tax and gasoline tax revenues.

He said that the typical store owner is losing as much as $50,000 a month in revenue, much of which goes to the city in taxes, in addition to putting more than 300 employees out of work while the stores remain closed.

“We don’t know the full extent of how many stores are being closed, but it is widespread,” Nijem said, adding that he has spoken to about 50 business operators whose stores have been closed so far.

Requests for comment were directed to Lightfoot, Building Department commissioner Matthew Beaudet and inspector Marlene Hopkins, and Water Department inspector Thomas Lynch.

Victor Owoeye, Lightfoot’s deputy press secretary, said in a statement: “The city has been working closely with gas station owners to ensure compliance with the municipal code. Two weeks ago, a deputy mayor as well as several senior departmental leaders from the Department of Buildings, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, and the Chicago Police Department hosted a round table for these very businesses. As a follow-up to the requests from the business owners, the city is providing business liaison teams and code checklists to businesses to engage on affirmative compliance.”

However, in responding to the initial request for comment, the officials inadvertently replied with the full email chain, including the department heads, and Owoeye, who told them: “My thoughts would be not to engage here. Any thoughts?”

But Nijem said that while the mayor’s staff met with some Arab and Muslim business leaders from Chicago’s suburbs, none met with the chamber or with any of the store owners who attended the press conference.

Several store owners, including Shihdeh Abu Khalil, who has been operating gas stations, said that the city previously worked with store owners to correct code violations without closing the outlets.

“The city of Chicago recently has been coming to gas stations and small businesses with the mindset to close the businesses down. We are not familiar with this,” Abu Khalil said.

“Before they used to come and consult with us, and advise us on how to fix different things. I am appealing to the mayor and those overseeing this situation to work with the business owners to correct any violations so we can open and do business in the city.”

Ayser Abu Shanab, who owned a gas station and grocery store, said that city inspectors first came to him and issued a series of citations on July 23, 2021.

“The task force gave us a list of violations that could have been corrected if they gave us some time. But they just decided to close us. We called them back on Aug. 13 and they came in and they added more violations from the initial one. We didn’t know anything about it and we could have fixed them before we called them,” Abu Shanab said.

“We didn’t know anything about any other violations besides what they gave us on paper. I had to visit the website of building permits and inspection records and find out 35 extra violations that were not on the initial one.”

Abu Shanab said that he has had no response to telephone calls or email queries to the inspection team.

Saad Malley said that his two gas stations are within one mile of other gas stations that have been targeted and closed by the authorities.

“Every day I come to work I am in fear that this task force will come and close us down with no prior notice,” he said.

“At stake is the livelihood of about 12 employees, myself and, of course, the neighborhood. We are a neighborhood gas station. All of the neighbors come to us for convenience. We are surprised that the city of Chicago is targeting minority-owned gas stations. And gas stations are an essential service.”

He added: “For some reason, the idea to close a gas station that is minority owned is seen as fighting crime. We do not control who comes to our gas stations any more than a hotel, hospital or restaurant controls who comes into their parking lot. We are asking that the city cease and desist this racially motivated attack on minority-owned gas stations and businesses.”

Nijem said that about 300 Arab-owned businesses could be affected by the city’s new policy to cite and close stores.


Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
Updated 2 min 14 sec ago

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
  • The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said

The Japanese government has provided $3m in aid to help set up eight temporary clinics in Yemen.

The cash was provided through the United Nations Office for Project services, the Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported. 

The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said. 

Every clinic will be equipped with a fully equipped laboratory, ultrasound and x-ray equipment, and an ECG and examination room. 

Meanwhile Yemen’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muamar Al-Eryani has praised Japan’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen during a meeting with Charge D’Affairs of the Japanese Embassy in Yemen Kazohiro Higashe on Wednesday, according to SABA. 

The two discussed mutual relations between Japan and Yemen, as well as ways to enhance the countries’ bilateral ties. 

Al-Eryani also shared the latest developments in Yemen, including the Houthis’ violations of the UN Truce and the militia’s refusal to end the siege in Taiz, SABA reported. 

For his part, the Japanese diplomat confirmed his country’s support for Yemen’s legitimacy, security, and stability.


Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
Updated 53 min 25 sec ago

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
  • Soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours
  • Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989

SRINAGAR, India: Three Indian soldiers and two suspected militants were killed Thursday after rebels stormed a military camp in disputed Kashmir, officials said.
At least two assailants armed with guns and grenades attacked the camp in the remote Darhal area of southern Rajouri district early Thursday, said Mukesh Singh, a senior police officer.
The soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours, Singh said.
A reinforcement of soldiers and counterinsurgency police encircled the camp as the fighting raged inside, officials said.
In addition to the five deaths, two soldiers were injured in the fighting, Singh said.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
On Wednesday, police said government forces killed three rebels in Budgam district during a counterinsurgency operation.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
Updated 11 August 2022

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
  • Kim Jong Un's powerful sister blamed leaflets from the South for causing the COVID outbreak in her isolated country
  • Seoul expresses regrets over the groundless claims and  threatening remarks by North Korea's leader

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, claiming the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly retaliation.
Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties. They believe the victory statement signals Kim’s aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister’s remarks portend a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died.
“Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA.
“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said.
For Kim to declare victory against COVID-19 suggests that he wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting a broken and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
South Korean and US officials have said North Korea could be gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid run of weapons tests this year that included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at leveraging its nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions, experts say.
Kim Jun-rak, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military was maintaining firm readiness and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.
The bellicose rhetoric of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and is also looking to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said.
North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation. She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”
Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness wasn’t further explained.
Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and surged further following a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.
In May, Kim prohibited travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which meant huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox.


FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home
Updated 11 August 2022

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home
  • Supporters of President Donald Trump have been using violent rhetoric in the wake of his agency’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home
  • Trump is being investigated by the US Justice Department for potential mishandling of classified information

OMAHA, Nebraska: The director of the FBI had strong words Wednesday for supporters of former President Donald Trump who have been using violent rhetoric in the wake of his agency’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
Christopher Wray, who was appointed as the agency’s director in 2017 by Trump, called threats circulating online against federal agents and the Justice Department “deplorable and dangerous.”
“I’m always concerned about threats to law enforcement,” Wray said. “Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with.”
Wray made the remarks following a news conference during a long-planned visit to the agency’s field office in Omaha, Nebraska, where he discussed the FBI’s focus on cybersecurity. He declined to answer questions about the hours-long search Monday by FBI agents of Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida resort.
It has been easy to find the threats and a call to arms in those corners of the Internet favored by right-wing extremists since Trump himself announced the search of his Florida home. Reactions included the ubiquitous “Lock and load” and calls for federal agents and even US Attorney General Merrick Garland to be assassinated.
On Gab — a social media site popular with white supremacists and antisemites — one poster going by the name of Stephen said he was awaiting “the call” to mount an armed revolution.
“All it takes is one call. And millions will arm up and take back this country. It will be over in less than 2 weeks,” the post said.
Another Gab poster implored others: “Lets get this started! This unelected, illegitimate regime crossed the line with their GESTAPO raid! It is long past time the lib socialist filth were cleansed from American society!“
The search of Trump’s residence Monday is part of an investigation into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department has been investigating the potential mishandling of classified information since the National Archives and Records Administration said it had received from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of White House records, including documents containing classified information, earlier this year.

 


Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
Updated 14 sec ago

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
  • The two men were escorted off an aircraft in Seattle after a fellow passenger told flight attendants they had been talking and sending text messages in Arabic

LONDON: Two Muslims have filed a lawsuit accusing Alaska Airlines of discrimination for allegedly removing them from a flight prior to takeoff because they were “talking and texting in Arabic.”

According to Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin, the incident occurred after they boarded a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020. They said the airline’s staff humiliated them “before their fellow passengers by unnecessarily deplaning (them) and allowing (other passengers) to observe plaintiffs surrounded by uniformed law enforcement personnel.”

The men said that they had been talking and texting in Arabic in the first-class cabin when a fellow traveler informed flight attendants about the text messages. They allege that an Alaska Airlines employee subsequently removed them from the flight due to a “ticket issue.”

This is not the first time that Arab passengers have complained about the way they were treated by airline staff in the US. In 2019, for example, Issam Abdallah said he was “humiliated” when an American Airlines flight to Texas he boarded in Alabama was canceled because crew members felt “uncomfortable” with him on the flight.

In 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic and saying the phrase “inshallah” (which means God willing) during a telephone conversation.