Faith leaders call for calm amid fears Hindu-Muslim violence could spread across UK

Police have been called to the temple and a mosque in Smethwick for a “search and disperse” operation in a bid to head off further clashes, searching for weapons, fireworks and other suspicious items. (Reuters)
Police have been called to the temple and a mosque in Smethwick for a “search and disperse” operation in a bid to head off further clashes, searching for weapons, fireworks and other suspicious items. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 September 2022

Faith leaders call for calm amid fears Hindu-Muslim violence could spread across UK

Faith leaders call for calm amid fears Hindu-Muslim violence could spread across UK
  • Clashes fueled by false rumors on social media and rise of Hindu nationalism in India
  • Police say ‘troublemakers’ on both sides traveling across England to stir up tensions

LONDON: Faith leaders in the UK have warned that violent clashes between groups of Hindus and Muslims could spread across the country after a flare up of tensions in the Staffordshire town of Smethwick.

It comes after 47 people were arrested over the weekend in the city of Leicester, with other incidents reported in neighboring towns this week, stirred by intercommunal tensions in the UK and in India, and facilitated by false rumors about violence on social media.

There have also been suggestions that the sectarianism in Leicester was sparked as a result of a cricket match between India and Pakistan on Aug. 28, while the violence in Smethwick may have been prompted by false reports that a Hindu nationalist was due to give a talk at a local temple.

Police have been called to the temple and a mosque in Smethwick for a “search and disperse” operation in a bid to head off further clashes, searching for weapons, fireworks and other suspicious items on people congregating nearby.

They also confirmed that young people were traveling to and from affected areas to stoke tensions, adding to fears that the violence could spread.

Hindu and Muslim community leaders issued a joint statement on Tuesday appealing for calm, which was reiterated on Wednesday.




(Screenshot/Twitter)

Ashvani Kumar, a trustee of Smethwick’s Durga Bhawan Center, said: “Interfaith leaders — Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian — were out talking to people and in the end only a few hundred troublemakers turned up.

“Some may have even come from Leicester. We are now trying to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The rise of Hindu nationalism in India has also been blamed for prompting the trouble. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has long been accused of Islamophobia and attacks on Muslims across the country have increased during his time in office.

Among the rumors thought to have sparked the clashes was that a Muslim girl had been kidnapped from the area by a group of Hindu men, which police say categorically did not happen.

Footage on Saturday posted to social media, meanwhile, showed a group of young Hindu men in a predominantly Muslim area of Leicester chanting “Jai Shri Ram” — meaning “Glory to Lord Rama” — which has become a favored slogan of Hindu nationalists in India.

Mazhar Mohammed, chair of the trustees at Jamia Masjid in Smethwick, told The Telegraph newspaper: “We’ve lived peacefully in this town together for many years and these tensions have been created overseas by right-wing extremists and brought over to the UK.”

The high commissions of India and Pakistan in London, meanwhile, issued separate statements condemning the violence, calling on authorities to restore order.

A source at the Hindu Council UK told The Telegraph: “Religious leaders have continued to call for calm, but the youths … It’s very difficult. You can’t control them. It’s crazy. It’s going everywhere. I can’t bring myself to say that it will come to London because we want to stop it somehow.”

A Hindu man from Leicester called Vinod told The Telegraph: “Social media is playing a big part in this and there is an agenda — people are looking at creating disarray between communities — not just in Leicester but across all of the UK.

“We’ve been informed that there’s going to be something similar in Nottingham and Coventry. It’s well planned with a narrative of anti-Islam and anti-Hindu sentiment, and it’s the actions of a few fanatics who are trying to get a reaction,” he said.

“My personal opinion is that if we are not careful, it will spread all across Britain, wherever there are south Asian communities,” he added.

A local Sikh, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told the paper that troublemakers were traveling from as far afield as Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.

“There’s a lot of young people behind this, using social media to settle scores,” he said. “People in Leicester are scared to go out in the evenings, especially if it’s dark.”


Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

KABUL: A mass grave found in southern Afghanistan has sparked calls for justice, as locals recalled atrocities committed against civilians over decades of conflict.

The remains of 12 people were recently found by residents of Spin Boldak, a town bordering Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar, which had been the site of intense fighting between forces of the Western-backed government and Taliban fighters for the last two decades until the group took over Afghanistan last year.

Video clips, shared on social media by locals and Taliban officials, showed villagers gathered around piles of bones.

Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, said the grave was from around eight or nine years ago, “when the area was under the control of the former administration.” He added that investigations were ongoing.

Taliban officials said the killings took place when Gen. Abdul Raziq was Kandahar police chief under the previous government.

Raziq was allegedly involved in torture and kidnapping, and was known for his fierce stance against the Taliban. He was killed in 2018.

A number of mass graves have been found in Afghanistan, many containing the remains of civilians killed in the decades of war before the US-led invasion in 2001.

More than 47,000 civilians and around 66,000 of Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers died in the post-2001 conflict, according to a Costs of War report by Brown University.

Afghans called for justice for the victims in the latest discovery. “A lot of kidnapping, disappearing and killing was happening in Kandahar,” Abdul Kabir Mukhlis told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mukhlis, who now lives in Zabul province but studied for several years in Kandahar, recalled years of living under the threat of violence and brutality.

“I swear to God I haven’t had a single day in peace because of the ruthless Raziq and his allies,” the 28-year-old said.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in the city. I’ve seen many such incidents. My friends disappeared, they were killed.”

Mukhlis called on the Taliban to bring the perpetrators to justice, especially those who remain in the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should bring all of them to justice. I don’t expect justice from the international community because they supported these criminals,” he said. “They knew about the atrocities but didn’t do anything.”

Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, told Arab News that the past two decades had seen powerful military figures committing “severe human rights and legal violations” to retain power.

“In the name of security, many innocent people were killed in the south in ways that are known only to those who did the atrocities. The recently explored grave in Kandahar could be just one example of the many similar incidents across the country,” Zaland said.

“On the pretext of the war on terror, both Afghans and their international allies have caused so much harm to innocent people that can’t be compensated. Justice is what could heal some of the wounds of the Afghan nation and the families of the victims.”

Esmatullah Afghan, a university lecturer from Helmand province, told Arab News that families of the victims often had to wait years to find out their fate.

“The injustice done to Afghans by their own countrymen and by foreigners is enormous,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the current government and an ethical obligation of the world to ensure justice to victims of cruelty, injustice and war in Afghanistan. 

“Afghans have been suffering mainly due to wars initiated by foreigners. The guilty must be punished.”


Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
  • Death toll has risen to 67 as of Tuesday afternoon, local official says
  • Boat accident is the worst waterway disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year

DHAKA: Almost as soon as the boat started moving to take passengers to the other side of the Karatoya River, where many Hindu devotees were heading to celebrate the Durga Puja festival at a popular temple, the small vessel began to tremble.
The 15-minute journey to cross the river in northern Bangladesh that Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a tragedy, taking less than four minutes before the boat began to sink.
“There had been a huge rush of passengers, and people were all in a hurry to get on the boat. Not a single inch of space was empty,” Ramesh Chandra, a 40-year-old farmer from the northern Panchagarh district, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Chandra, who boarded the boat with his 35-year-old wife Shyamoli Rani Shimuli and his 11-year-old daughter Surovi Rani, said it had all happened suddenly.
“Soon after the boat started moving, it was trembling because of the overload,” he said.
When Chandra realized the boat was sinking, he took his daughter’s hands and swam toward the river bank. But his wife, who was wearing a traditional sari, did not make it.
“My wife knew swimming very well, but she unfortunately failed to manage it as she was wearing a sari, which wrapped her whole body immediately when it got wet,” Chandra said.
He is now left alone to raise his daughter and 13-year-old son Saurov, who had been at home when the incident occurred.
“I don’t know what to do now, how I will be able to raise my children alone without their mother,” Chandra said.
Shimuli’s body was recovered on Sunday evening, and she was cremated the following day. As the family mourns the tragic loss, they also have to grapple with other losses in the extended family.
Chandra said his niece and sister were also killed in the accident, and authorities were still searching for his nephew on Tuesday.
The worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year had killed at least 67 people as of Tuesday afternoon, comprising 30 women, 20 children, and 17 men, Mohammad Jahurul Islam, Panchagarh district administrator, told Arab News.
“Our divers are working to trace the (missing) bodies. Rescue operations will continue until we can address the last complaint reported,” Islam said.
Islam said aid was given to the families of the deceased victims to cover expenses for the funeral rites.
Dipankar Roy, who heads the committee investigating the accident, told Arab News that they have conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, and other concerned parties.
“Our investigation over this tragic incident is almost over. We hope to submit the report by 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the latest,” Roy said.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents across Bangladesh, as accidents commonly occur due to lax safety standards. In April 2021, at least 35 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.
The villages along the Karatoya River were overwhelmed with grief, as many residents mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, and neighbors in the boat accident.
Tarun Kumar Barman, a 35-year-old farmer from Panchagarh, said his village alone had lost eight people to the tragedy. His nine-year-old niece and 48-year-old sister were among the victims.
“All of them were from the Hindu community and had intended to make offerings in the temple on the occasion of Mahalaya,” Barman told Arab News, referring to the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations.
“The whole village is overwhelmed with mourning now. People forgot their daily routines. We are extremely shocked,” he said. “It’s a dead village now. We cremated the bodies one after another. None of us was ready for a situation like this.”


Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
Updated 27 September 2022

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
  • Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday
  • On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday

MOSCOW: Moscow said Tuesday it will not request the extradition of Russians traveling abroad to avoid being called-up to fight in Ukraine, after thousands of military-aged men crossed into neighboring countries.
“The Russian ministry of defense has not sent any request to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Georgia, or any other country for the alleged forced return to Russian soil of Russian citizens, and it is not planning to do so,” the ministry said in a statement.
Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday, with hours-long queues at border crossings.
On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to protect the safety and welfare of Russians fleeing a “hopeless situation” on Tuesday.
Russians have also headed to the neighboring Black Sea nation of Georgia, which saw the number of Russians arriving daily nearly double since the mobilization announcement.
On Tuesday the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia said the situation at the border was “extremely tense.”
The ministry added that a mobile mobilization office will be set up at the border in the “near future.”


Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
Updated 27 September 2022

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
  • The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal
  • "They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government," spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters

BARCELONA, Spain: Catalonia will push the Spanish government for a new agreement on holding a binding referendum on the region’s potential independence that would be recognized both by Spain and the international community, its separatist leader said on Tuesday.
The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal.
“They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government,” spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters.
But both governments would keep talking to “normalize” their relationship, she said.
The so-called “clarity agreement” proposal comes shortly before the fifth anniversary of Catalonia’s unauthorized independence referendum and at a critical time for its separatist movement, which is marred by divisions between moderates and radicals that have threatened to fracture the coalition government.
Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has favored dialogue with Catalonia to rebuild relations after a chaotic unilateral bid for independence in 2017 plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.
It remains, however, staunchly opposed to independence and has hitherto ruled out a legal referendum. The Spanish constitution blocks the country’s break up but some scholars and Catalan separatists argue there could be legal room for a vote if the Spanish government agrees.
A similar proposal by Catalonia in 2012 was firmly rejected by the then conservative government in Madrid. The wealthy northeastern region held a referendum five years later despite a ban by the courts, and issued a short-lived unilateral independence declaration.
Catalan government head Pere Aragones told the regional parliament that for another referendum, Catalonia needed Madrid’s buy-in.
“I have no doubt this is the fastest and most efficient way to hold another vote because it originates from the lessons learned from 2017 and overcomes the difficulties that did not allow us to implement the result five years ago,” he said.
He called his proposal the “most inclusive, democratic and explainable to the international community,” and said he would seek the support of all Catalonia’s political actors.
Aragones has engaged in talks with Madrid and his party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has frequently lent its votes to the socialist-led minority government in congress.
Around 52 percent of Catalans oppose independence and 41 percent back it, according to a June poll.


Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
  • The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe

ISLAMABAD: A senior member of the Taliban-run government in Afghanistan on Tuesday called on Afghanistan’s new rulers to reopen schools for girls beyond the sixth grade, saying there is no valid reason in Islam for the ban.
The appeal from Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, came during a top Taliban gathering in Kabul. It was a rare moderate voice amid the harsh measures imposed by the Taliban since they overran the country and seized power in August 2021.
The measures include banning girls from middle school and high school despite initial promises to the contrary. Women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing.
The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe.
The United Nations has called the ban “shameful” and the international community has been wary of officially recognizing the Taliban, fearing a return to the same harsh rule the Taliban imposed when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
“It is very important that education must be provided to all, without any discrimination,” Stanikzai said. “Women must get education, there is no Islamic prohibition for girls’ education.”
“Let’s not provide opportunities for others to create a gap between the government and people,” he added. “If there are technical issues, that needs to be resolved, and schools for girls must be opened.”
Still, it was unclear if and how much Stanikzai could sway hard-liners, who appear to hold the reins in the Taliban administration.
Stanikzai was once head of the Taliban team in talks that led to the 2020 agreement in Qatar between the Taliban and the United States that included the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
His remarks follow the Taliban appointment of a new education minister, days after the UN called on them to reopen schools for girls. The UN estimates that more than 1 million girls have been barred from attending most of middle school and high school over the past year.
A year after the Taliban took over the country as the Western-backed government and military crumbled, the UN says it is increasingly concerned that restrictions on girls’ education, as well as other measures curtailing basic freedoms, would deepen Afghanistan’s economic crisis and lead to greater insecurity, poverty, and isolation.

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