Islamophobia, Gaza prominent as millions go to the polls


Islamophobia, Gaza prominent as millions go to the polls

Islamophobia, Gaza prominent as millions go to the polls
A cyclist passes damaged buildings in Khan Younis, after Israel pulled its forces out of southern Gaza, Apr. 8, 2024. (AFP)
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The year 2024 is the ultimate election year, with at least 64 countries plus the EU all holding elections. In some of these countries, particularly the US, the war on Gaza and the surge of Islamophobia as a consequence of it will be played out in election campaigns and will have an impact on voters.

Elections to the European Parliament in June seem set to increase Islamophobia within the institution, posing risks for European Muslims. With the expected far-right gains and a lack of representation for European Muslims in the EU institution, Islamophobic rhetoric is likely to increase. This comes at a time when far-right parties with a distinct anti-Islam, anti-immigrant attitude have increased in influence and power in European countries such as Italy, the Netherlands and France.

The UK is also expected to hold elections for the House of Commons this year. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing mounting pressure to crack down on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry in his ruling Conservative Party. However, with a bleak economic outlook and low party popularity, political analysts expect this trend to increase, particularly targeting Muslim immigrants, during the election campaign.

However, the most important elections are for the US presidency, Senate and House of Representatives in November. On the occasion of International Day to Combat Islamophobia, established in March 2022 by the UN, President Joe Biden condemned the ugly resurgence of Islamophobia since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the start of the Israeli war on Gaza. According to human rights advocates, there was a rise of about 180 percent in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian bias and antisemitism in the first three months after Oct. 7.

The recent interrogation by the Senate Judiciary Committee of Biden’s judicial nominee, Adeel Abdullah Mangi, who would be the first Muslim American judge on the federal appellate bench, was described by the White House as an “Islamophobic smear campaign.” During his nomination hearing, Mangi was questioned about his views on the Hamas attack and whether he believed it was justified. Observers noted that Mangi was aggressively questioned on his views on Israel, terrorism and antisemitism.

As the elections near, we can expect clearer racist and Islamophobic hype, with both Democratic and Republican candidates trying to appeal to the Israeli lobby despite polls showing the public’s growing discontent and opposition to the war on Gaza. A recent Gallup poll showed that approval of the war had dropped from 50 percent to 36 percent since November. A decline in approval was present among all party groups, but was far more obvious among Democrats and independents than Republicans.

With the approval rating of his handling of the situation in the Middle East at a lowly 27 percent, for Biden it is a case of the sooner the war ends the better. The UN Security Council was finally able to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire during Ramadan because the US abstained rather than vetoed the resolution.

Another notable election is that of May’s National Assembly poll in South Africa, where the Gaza war has become a key issue. The ruling African National Congress has been unambiguous in its pro-Palestine stance, referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocide” and dragging it to the International Court of Justice. The major opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, on the other hand, has changed its position from initial steadfast support for Israel to ambivalent rhetoric about peaceful coexistence. The parties’ differing positions on the war have boosted support for the ANC, which was struggling before Oct. 7.

In the countries that have already held elections in 2024, as well as the nations that will be holding votes across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Gaza war is prominent to varying degrees, depending on their stand, but particularly in Arab and Muslim countries. This reflects how this war has polarized the world.

Elections to the European Parliament seem set to increase Islamophobia within the institution, posing risks for European Muslims.

Maha Akeel

The recent resolution passed by the UN on Islamophobia demonstrated this polarization. On March 15, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning anti-Muslim violence, calling for measures against religious intolerance and requesting the secretary-general to appoint a special enjoy to combat Islamophobia. The representative of Pakistan, who introduced the resolution on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, noted that Islamophobia was not new and its most egregious current manifestation was Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 115 in favor to none against, with 44 abstentions.

Reservations expressed by some member states, mainly European and India, were on the grounds of the text’s narrow focus on one religion and the cost of creating a senior UN position. Interestingly, the US supported the resolution. On the other hand, the vote by India came ahead of an election where anti-Muslim hate speech and incidents are expected to spike, which is indicative of the rising Islamophobia ever since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014. However, there was a positive change in the UN vote because similar resolutions have failed to pass in previous years, with clear votes against rather than abstentions.

While there has been an increase in Islamophobia since Oct. 7, there has also been an increase in awareness, sensitivity and the rejection of anti-Muslim hate.

  • Maha Akeel is a Saudi expert in communications, social development and international relations. She is a member of the UN’s Senior Women Talent Pipeline. X: @MahaAkeel1
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