Muslims and Arabs challenge stereotypes in the US through disaster-relief work

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Updated 15 September 2023
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Muslims and Arabs challenge stereotypes in the US through disaster-relief work

Muslims and Arabs challenge stereotypes in the US through disaster-relief work
  • They have been part of responses to emergencies such as the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and severe flooding in Illinois this year 
  • Aid workers say efforts to help all Americans in need, regardless of race, religion or origin, offer a counterbalance to the plague of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab racism 

CHICAGO: Major disasters strike communities across the US each year, including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires. But while the aid organizations that respond to them are often praised for their vital work, what is less-often highlighted is fact that many Muslims and Arabs are among the dedicated teams that help to provide relief to victims, in partnership with government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and aid organizations such the Red Cross. 

The Islamic Center of North America Relief is one of the largest Muslims and Arab relief organizations in the US. It was founded in 1968 and has been working since then to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care to the victims of disasters, officials from the organization told Arab News. 

It is now works in partnership with FEMA to support relief efforts, and was part of the responses to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and most recently the floods in Illinois in July this year that damaged more than 35,000 homes. 

The majority of the people who benefit from the aid provided by the ICNA Relief are not Muslim or Arab, and officials from the organization said this is helping to counter the persistent, inaccurate and negative stereotypes that continue to fuel anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism. 

 

“For us, these stereotypes actually motivate us — at least, me,” Mohammed Dahsheh, ICNA Relief’s assistant director of disaster relief services, told Arab News. “They really motivate me because I know I am on a mission to show my faith, because everything in my faith is positive. 

“Really, it doesn’t ask me to hurt anybody. This is our mission: To help as many people, no matter where they are from or what their color is, whatever their nationality, race or religion. It doesn’t matter. We are all humans and we all need help sometimes and we all deserve that help, whoever we may be or wherever we may be from. 

“It doesn’t matter where they are from. They are human, they deserve to have dignity, even if they are going through challenging times. We all go through challenges in our life, we all go through difficulties, it doesn’t matter who we are or where we are from.” 

Describing the achievements of the Muslim and Arab Americans who have worked for the organization over the years, Abdulrauf Khan, ICNA Relief’s chief commercial officer, said they have helped more than 5.2 million Americans of 70 national origins in 42 states through their work, which includes 26 shelters for women, 58 food pantries, eight medical centers, 27 refugee resource centers, and four mobile medical clinics deployed in crisis zones. 

 

“Our goal is whomever comes to our door, we serve them” he said. “It’s not about ethnicity, race or where you are from, what language you speak or how you get here, legal or not legal. We just serve them because, first of all, being a Muslim, it is our responsibility to help our fellow Americans, our fellow neighbors. We do it because it is our responsibility. 

“That’s why we are so very careful of what we do and how we do it, because people are looking at us as a representation of Islam, a person who has to represent Islam in a very positive way. So we are very careful, very mindful of people around us, how we do it, the way we do it, to present it in a way that people accept it.” 

Khan agreed with his colleague that such efforts have a direct effect in helping to debunk negative stereotypes, given his own observations of Muslims and Arabs helping Americans in need. 

“Our services are not just for Muslims only,” he said. “Whoever comes, we welcome them. We don’t force them to become Muslims. We don’t even tell them about Islam. We just do what we do, and if they like what we do and they like where we are doing it and how we are doing it … they like to be part of us.” 

What American see when they encounter the organization’s workers is very different from what they might have heard about Muslims and Arabs, he added, and this helps to challenge the stereotypes that fuel discrimination. 

As schools across the country reopen after the summer break, another example of the work of ICNA Relief is the distribution of more than 1 million backpacks filled with school supplies  for American children. 

And after several years of lobbying by the organization, the US Department of Agriculture, which oversees the approval and distribution of foodstuffs during emergencies recently gave the green light the inclusion of Halal foods in relief packages. 

 

“When it comes to community engagement and being within the community, all of our services within ICNA Relief are domestic services,” Dahsheh said. 

“So everything that we provide, any service we provide, is here in the United States of America, 42 states across the nation with these food pantries, with the different services and the programs we have. 

“We try to reach those vulnerable communities that really need the support, that are having challenging times. ICNA Relief, its mission is really just to alleviate human suffering with compassionate services that we provide around the country.” 

Both Khan and Dahsheh are immigrants. Khan came from Pakistan, while Dahsheh was born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugee parents who came to America when he was an infant. Both said they consider America their home but are very proud of their heritage, their culture and their family traditions. 

 

“Now we are here,” said Khan. “Now, our responsibility is to take care of people, those who are not able to take care of themselves. We are at this point now, have been serving millions and millions of people every year. 

“We want to make an impact on people who are not able to at least take care of themselves. We give them a helping hand and help them to become self-sufficient as early as possible.” 

Khan and Dahsheh said ICNA Relief is a donation-driven organization and only 7 percent of the money it receives is used to fund administrative costs, with the remaining 93 percent directly funding relief efforts. 

“We are at the table,” Khan said. “It took us 30 or 40 years, but we are here.” 

Khan and Dahsheh were speaking during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which was broadcast on Sept. 13, 2023, on the US Arab Radio network on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 Radio in Washington D.C. 

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations
Updated 58 min 19 sec ago
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UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations

UK uses Rwanda flights for Vietnam, East Timor deportations
  • Home Secretary Yvette Cooper: ‘Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here’
  • Cooper called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, ‘the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money’ she had seen

LONDON: Britain’s new Labour government on Thursday said it had deported 46 people to Vietnam and East Timor, after ditching the previous Conservative administration’s plan to send migrants to Rwanda.
Home Secretary Yvette Cooper this week said flights initially intended to fly undocumented migrants to the east African nation would instead be used to deport foreign criminals and immigration offenders.
The chartered return flight, which took off on Wednesday and arrived on Thursday, is the first ever to East Timor and the first to Vietnam since 2022, her department said.
“Today’s flight shows the government is taking quick and decisive action to secure our borders and return those with no right to be here,” added Cooper.
Labour, elected in a landslide election win this month, has scrapped the Tories’ Rwanda plan, which had been deemed illegal under international law by the UK Supreme Court.
Former prime minister Rishi Sunak had aimed for the first flights to take off this month, after legislating to designate the African nation a safe third country.
Cooper this week called the Rwanda scheme, intended to deter migrants making the Channel crossing in small boats from northern France, “the most shocking waste of taxpayers’ money” she had seen.
The Tories had spent £700 million ($900 million) on the scheme but only four migrants had relocated to Rwanda — and they went voluntarily.
She also told parliament Sunak’s government planned to spend more than £10 billion on the scheme in total.
Labour’s approach is to prioritize returns of failed asylum seekers to designated safe countries to ease a huge backlog in the claims system.
It also wants closer cooperation with European partners to “smash” the people-smuggling gangs behind the Channel crossings, which so far this year have seen nearly 16,000 people brought ashore.
Vietnamese nationals accounted for 20 percent of undocumented migrants intercepted making the journey between January and March this year, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said.
In March this year, Sunak’s government launched a global social media campaign, aimed at Vietnam in particular, to deter people from using the route.
On Wednesday, a gang of British people-smugglers were jailed after trying to hide two Vietnamese migrants in a hidden compartment of their campervan as they traveled between France and the UK.
Eleven people have been convicted in the UK in connection with the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants who were found in the back of a lorry in 2019 after being smuggled from northern Europe.


Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning

Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning
Updated 25 July 2024
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Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning

Belgium searches 14 houses in terrorism probe, detains 7 for questioning
  • The specific targets of the attack had not yet been determined
  • The house searches took place in the cities of Antwerp, Liege and Ghent, among others, and in the Brussels region

BRUSSELS: Belgian police have conducted 14 house searches in a terrorism investigation, the federal public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday, adding seven people were taken in for questioning.
“They are suspected, among other things, of preparing a terrorist attack. The specific targets of the attack had not yet been determined,” it said in a statement.
A judge will decide later if they are to be charged.
The house searches took place in the cities of Antwerp, Liege and Ghent, among others, and in the Brussels region.
The prosecutor’s office did not immediately comment on whether the plans had a link to the Paris Olympics, which commences on Friday.
The Paris anti-terrorism prosecutor did not respond when asked if it was involved in the investigation.
The perpetrators of the 2015 Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed and 368 wounded, largely planned and coordinated them from Belgium, with several of the attackers being Belgian nationals or residents.
In 2016, bombings at Brussels airport killed 34 people and injured 340. Among those convicted for the attacks was Salah Abdeslam, who was also the main suspect in the Paris attacks trial.


Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods

Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods
Updated 25 July 2024
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Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods

Marcos blames climate change for deadly Manila floods
  • At least 14 Filipinos were killed, over 1.1 million people affected by Typhoon Gaemi
  • Deadly storm spurred fresh calls for climate action in the Philippines

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday that climate change was to blame for the severe floods that submerged the capital Manila, after heavy rains from Typhoon Gaemi triggered a deadly deluge and landslides.

Gaemi, known as Carina in the Philippines, did not make landfall in the country but has intensified seasonal monsoon rains, causing landslides and flooding over the past few days and forcing authorities to declare a state of calamity in the capital region that is home to roughly 15 million people.

At least 14 people were killed, and more than 1.1 million people were affected by Typhoon Gaemi in the Southeast Asian nation.

Marcos joined relief efforts on Thursday and handed out food parcels to those hardest hit by the floods in Manila.

“I wanted to see what the situation was. I was right; it’s very different reading a piece of paper than actually seeing what the people have to go through,” Marcos said.

“This is what the effects of climate change are.”

Philippine climate activists are now renewing their calls for action, citing the devastating effects of Typhoon Gaemi.

“Typhoon Carina highlights the extreme weather impact being experienced in the world, and especially in the Philippines. It just emphasizes that our country is at the forefront of the climate crisis,” Greenpeace Philippines campaigner Khevin Yu told Arab News.

“It is really important for the Philippines to demand climate justice. So, this has been echoed by President Marcos, but we are pushing him to do more.”

Activists demand that bills related to climate justice and accountability be passed. Yu said Filipinos must also be included in discussions and urged officials to move forward with energy transition plans.

Jashaf Shamir Lorenzo, head of policy development and research at BAN Toxics Philippines, said Typhoon Gaemi sent a “very clear” message.

“Climate targets that have long been ignored by developed countries are impacting our countries … and this will only get worse unless we call for accountability. We call for actions on the end of not only the Philippines, but these developed countries who are contributing a lot to climate change,” Lorenzo told Arab News.

“Extreme weather conditions have been becoming more common,” he said. “This is only going to get worse if we do not address all the fundamental issues that we have.”

The Philippines sees about 20 storms and typhoons every year, but the changing climate is making the storms more unpredictable and extreme.

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, left more than 6,000 people dead or missing and displaced millions in central Philippines, while in 2021, Super Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette, killed over 200 people.


UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan

UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan
Updated 25 July 2024
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UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan

UN experts urge halt to violence against Ahmadis in Pakistan
  • “We are alarmed by ongoing reports of violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said the nine independent experts
  • The experts highlighted a number of specific incidents over recent months

GENEVA: United Nations experts on Thursday voiced grave concern at reports of surging discrimination and violence against Pakistan’s Ahmadi minority community, including extrajudicial killings and attacks on places of worship.
The Ahmadiyya sect, considered heretics by fundamentalist groups, has been persecuted for decades in Pakistan but threats and intimidation have risen in recent years.
“We are alarmed by ongoing reports of violence and discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan,” said the nine independent experts, including the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, on freedom of expression and on freedom of religion.
“Urgent measures are necessary to respond to these violent attacks and the broader atmosphere of hatred and discrimination which feeds it,” they said in a statement.
The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the United Nations, highlighted a number of specific incidents over recent months.
Those included the extrajudicial killing of two Ahmadis in Saad Ullah Pur on July 8 and the killing on March 4 of the president of the Ahmadiyya community in Bahawalpur district.
They also noted reports of an alarming number of attacks on Ahmadi places of worship and cemeteries since the beginning of the year, including some that had led to the serious injury of worshippers.
The statement also highlighted a number of alleged arbitrary arrests of Ahmadi worshippers over religious holiday periods “to obstruct their participation in their religious practices.”
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and their faith is identical to mainstream Islam in almost every way.
But their belief that the movement’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the “mahdi” or messiah has marked them as blasphemous unbelievers, particularly in Pakistan. There are around 500,000 Amadis in Pakistan according to their community leadership.
The constitution has branded them non-Muslims since 1974, and a 1984 law forbids them from claiming their faith as Islamic or openly practicing Islamic rituals.
“Ahmadis’ right to peacefully manifest their beliefs must be respected,” the experts insisted, warning that “judicial harassment serves to normalize violence against Ahmadis by non-State actors.”
They welcomed Pakistan National Assembly’s adoption last month of a resolution urging federal and provincial governments to ensure the safety and security of all Pakistani citizens including religious minorities.
But, they cautioned, “such good-faith efforts to counter discriminatory discourse will be ineffective unless they address its structural drivers, (including) blasphemy laws and discriminatory legal provisions.”


Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official

Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official
Updated 25 July 2024
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Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official

Sheep ‘buried alive’ in Greece amid disease cull: official
  • Officials since early July has been trying to contain an outbreak of sheep and goat plague
  • The disease known as Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR, is highly contagious to sheep and goats

ATEHNS: A senior veterinary official in Greece was replaced after it emerged that sheep had been “buried alive” in a disease control move, a regional governor said Thursday.
“We received a complaint concerning live animals in the burial process,” Dimitris Kouretas, governor of the central region of Thessaly, told reporters.
“This merits further investigation. For this reason I replaced the veterinary supervisor” responsible for the area of the incident, Kouretas said.
Officials since early July has been trying to contain an outbreak of sheep and goat plague near the central city of Trikala.
The disease known as Peste des Petits Ruminants, or PPR, is highly contagious to sheep and goats but does not affect humans. Meat and pasteurised milk are also safe to consume, officials said.
The Greek agriculture ministry has said it is the first time the disease has been detected in the country.
Over 2,400 sheep have been culled since the first case was detected on July 11 near the town of Kalabaka, according to the agriculture ministry.
Farmers and officials have said the disease was likely brought into the country by imported livestock.
“Non-stop checks are underway” by scores of vets, Agriculture Minister Kostas Tsiaras told Skai radio, adding that some had interrupted their summer holidays.
Tsiaras noted that Greek farmers had increased animal imports after local flocks were decimated in last year’s disastrous floods caused by Storm Daniel.
Tens of thousands of sheep perished at the time.
Non-EU imports “are mainly from Romania, Turkiye and Albania,” the minister said, adding that the animals’ origin would be investigated.
The governor’s office has temporarily shut down local abattoirs and farmers have been instructed to keep their flocks indoors.