Tales of Islamophobia from Indians, Israelis and West

Photo source: India Today

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

 The ultra-rightist conservative conception of the world has championed a religious bigotry stemming towards Muslims. There are myriad pro-Israel organisations that offer political cover for Islamophobia, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, StandWithUs, Middle East Forum, and others. Even more ensuing funding is provided to these groups by pro-Israel billionaire Islamophobes like Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

American Hindus, influenced and motivated by the American Jewish community, have went on to build a network of think-tanks, foundations, and lobbying groups which promote Hindutva values. Among them are the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the Dharma Civilisation Foundation (DCF), and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation.

For these advocacy groups, promotion of Hinduism goes hand-in-hand with the fight against Islam and Muslims. In fact, HAF announced a $75-million lawsuit against four Indian-American organisations, who had asked the US Small Business Administration to investigate HAF’s receipt of $400,000 in Covid-19 relief funds. As a reaction, there were several press releases from the 'Coalition to Stop Genocide in India.'

The coalition’s statement was based on an earlier Al Jazeera article, which reported an $800,000 award of Covid-19 funds to HAF, and several other Hindutva organisations. The coalition then sent a demand letter to Al Jazeera and the article’s author, demanding that it retract the article and issue an apology. After a legal review, Al Jazeera stood by the article and refused to rescind. The eventual result was a lawsuit against the leaders of the coalition.

Individual groups within Israel and Indian lobbies have also developed close ties. A case to ponder upon is the Middle East Forum. MEF's founder, Daniel Pipes, is a former academic, who became a leading pro-Israel advocate. Pipes' verbal assaults are filled with outright hate and falsehoods. He once advocated: 'raze the PA's illegal offices in Jerusalem, its security infrastructure, and villages from which attacks are launched.'

MEF is a key member of the American Jewish Islamophobia movement, which also reaches out to Islamophobic groups worldwide, including Tommy Robinson’s English Defense League whose anti-Muslim street protests it funded. Geert Wilders, leader of the second-largest party in the Dutch parliament, since 2017 election, has also been honoured lavishly and funded by MEF.

Pipes and other 'counter-jihadis' favour the same diction. Some have urged that American Muslims be interned in camps, under the suspicion that they seek the overthrow of America's Judeo-Christian way of life.

The attack on Hagia Sophia Mosque in Amsterdam, that saw its windows smashed with a beer bottle, is the second time the building has been targeted in 2021. Given the political trajectory of the country, this seems perfectly in line with how the Muslims are treated not only by the growing far-right, but also by the centrists, and the regional media. Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV), in Netherlands, sent a clear message about how deeply entrenched racist and anti-migrant views are around the social sphere. Inciting the expulsion of Muslims, as Wilders did, is no longer dismissed merely as a demand by a minority of street thugs. Those street thugs are now running the opposition in the Dutch parliament, because their views are institutionalised through some laws and practices, by its most powerful establishment.

The laws aimed to get codified include Wilder's proposal to create a ministry for de-Islamification and deportation. His proposal did not lead to any general outrage. On the contrary, he continued to be invited on television. By echoing the far right line which was similarly used in UK and US, he normalised racism in Netherlands, tearing down its civil rights.

Fueling more tensions, Austrian government released 'a national map of Islam' in May 2021, with the names and locations of more than 620 mosques, associations, officials and their possible connections abroad. They placed signs across the country, warning the nearby mosques, of the repercussions for spreading political Islam. But, Austrian Muslims viewed it as an attack on their social freedoms, as the government escalated its investigations . After the digital map was unveiled, racist attacks on Muslims also escalated. As there is ban of headscarves in schools, manifestations of identity politics are in the open, despite Islam being an official religion in Austria.

There was an outrage in France, too, in July 2021 when its government announced an anti-separatism bill, defending its so called 'republican values'. It bans polygamy or forced marriages, wants issuance of virginity certificates, and also restrains political meetings in mosques. Socialist politician and leader of the La France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, attempted to launch a motion to discard the bill, which he described as Islamophobic, and contrary to French values. But, his motion was rejected. Recently, France has also voted against hijab for girls under the age of 18. The hijab has been the subject of a decades-long feud in France. Since 2020, France has even closed down third of it's eighty nine mosques under the scanner.

When hijab was banned in Switzerland in March 2021, there were only around 30 women in a country of 8.6 million who wore the religious garment. However, according to New Arab, the resources and attention garnered, which included a national referendum, showcased the shamelessness of the Islamophobic agenda.

Several Italian politicians such as Giorgia Meloni, on the other hand, use their right wing populism against Muslims for promoting anti-Semitism in Italy. According to a 2019 poll by Pew Research Centre, 55 percent of Italians view Muslims unfavourably, contributing to Islamophobia. In 2016, a controversial legislative issue occurred with the adoption of a regional law that regulated the construction of new places of worship, including mosques. This is a clear breach of the fundamental right of religious freedom which is enshrined in the Italian constitution, and was dubbed the 'Anti-Mosque Law'. 

In Spain, there has been rise of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims in regions such as Catalonia. 

Recently, a top EU court has allowed businesses to ban the hijab worn by employees, in an attempt to 'present a neutral image to the clients and prevent social disputes'. The advent of this move clearly justifies institutionalised Islamophobia.

When it comes to Canada, which often markets itself as immigrant friendly and plural, it had suffered more mass killings than any G7 nation, motivated by Islamophobia, according to National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Recently, there has been a sense of frustration and resentment among Muslim Canadian women in Edmonton who have been verbally and physically assaulted. In June 2021, a truck driver also ran down over four Muslim family members walking down the road in London, Ontario. Due to rising fears, some Canadian women and girls who wear the hijab, have opted to wear toques to cover their hair when they go out for walks especially in the evening, so that they are not visibly Muslim and a target. It was in 2017, when Alexandre Bissonnette stormed a mosque in Quebec city, killing six Muslim worshippers and injuring several others, resulting in the worst anti-Muslim mass murder in Canadian and United States history. What's even more disturbing is that the Langley Islamic Centre in British Columbia lately received an anonymous note, threatening the mosque to shut down within two months, or else a Christchurch-inspired murder would ensue.

To make matters more volatile, even the mainstream Indian editors have left no stone unturned in publicising the stories coming from western ultra-rightists. MEF's Smith published an article in India's The Print, claiming that the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement has expanded its ambitions to depose a democratic India, as well as Israel.

In a First Post article, Smith again declared that even US Congress members like Rashida Tlaib are firm advocates of Muslim domination, merely because they protest India's policies in Kashmir. In another First Post piece, Smith then expands his theory of ‘Islamist triumphalism’, claiming that toppling Jewish rule in Israel and Hindu rule in India isn't merely an attempt to foist Islam upon these countries, but an act of historical retrieval of former Muslim rule: a reverse Crusades. In this panorama, Muslims are seeking a restoration of Islam's supposed rightful claims to these lands.

In 2016, the Vivekananda International Foundation brought Pipes to India to brief leading Hindutva intellectuals, journalists, ministers, and army officers. He warned of the ominous dangers of global Islamic war, specifically in the Middle East, warning that this regional threat would soon proliferate to India. But, he forgot that only a minute percentage of Muslims are radical.

In history, we have seen this sort of embracing hatred before: in Nazi Germany it targeted Jews, gypsies, communists, homosexuals and the disabled. In Rwanda, it targeted the Tutsis. In Bosnia it targeted the Muslims. In Israel, it targets the Palestinians, to name a few.

As per an article written in TRT World by Richard Silverstein: ‘the goal is nothing less than the subjugation of a world religion with 1.8 billion adherents. Such dangerous delusions will inexorably lead to massacres, not just between individual religious communities as in Gujarat, India, but between major religious groups on a national scale. It could also lead to war between nations themselves.’

What’s common with these personalities and the movements they adhere to, is the excessive exultation of theocratic oppression stemming from Hindutva-Zionist doctrines, Christian fundamentalism, anti-immigration populism, racism and anti-Muslim verbal assaults.

Even leaders in Israel and India have increasingly viewed Muslims a common enemy. For Israel, the enemy is 'Islamist' groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and countries like Iran. In India, it is the Pakistani 'jihadi' threat, and the rising Kashmiri secessionist movement.

Both Israel and India have substantial Muslim minority communities, which the many sections of religious majorities (Jews and Hindus) view as a threat to their dominance.

Talking of India-Israeli relations, there seems to be a rigid, narrow-minded political worldview boasted by Netanyahu and Modi, lately, and their commonalities have eventually thrown them into each other's arms. In the recent past, Modi and Netanyahu were known to be brothers of sorts. In 2020, they exchanged visits to each other's countries, marking the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Israel, and the first visit of the Israeli prime minister to India. It was a bromance founded on Islamophobia. This leadership strategy also led to increasingly close military ties. Israel, which has a thriving arms export industry, has been the leading provider for India's military needs. Up to half of Israel’s overall arm sales go to India.

A paper authored by Sameer Patil, fellow at International Security Studies Programme at Gateway House has ascertained that the mainstay of Israel-India relations is the annual arm sales averaging $1 billion. The paper reveals: ‘Israeli radar and missile defence systems along with drones and avionics have augmented the Indian military’s surveillance and operational capabilities. Israel has also aligned itself with the Make in India initiative’. Hence, India would use several facets of its militarised apparatus in Muslim majority places such as Kashmir, a political boiling pot, with advantageous gains. They have done it in the past, and will continue to do it in the future.


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