Canadian Muslims have given Justin Trudeau a mandate to eliminate Islamophobia

Summit recommendations are just that and mandates are less categorical. More reduce than eliminate.

While the government needs to provide a response, the nature of the response will need to consider broad public policy issues as well as responses to other forms of xenophobia, discrimination and prejudice:

Progress has been made, such as the addition of right-wing extremist groups to Canada’s terror lists. The attacks on the Afzaal family in London and on Mohamed-Aslim Zafis outside an Etobicoke mosque, on the other hand, underlined the need for stronger action.

In reaction to the rise of anti-Muslim hate, the Liberal government convened the July National Action Summit Against Islamophobia shortly before the federal election. Many community organizations submitted recommendations with the expectation that the government would take concrete action. The government listened intently to people’s lived experiences and demands for reform, but only a few first steps were proposed.

Following the 2019 federal election, Canada’s Muslim community outlined four priorities that the Liberal government should address immediately: the rise in Islamophobia, Bill 21 in Quebec, Islamophobia’s presence in Canada’s national security regime, and a foreign policy committed to speaking out against human rights violations.

Progress has been made, such as the addition of right-wing extremist groups to Canada’s terror lists. The attacks on the Afzaal family in London and on Mohamed-Aslim Zafis outside an Etobicoke mosque, on the other hand, underlined the need for stronger action.

In reaction to the rise of anti-Muslim hate, the Liberal government convened the July National Action Summit Against Islamophobia shortly before the federal election. Many community organizations submitted recommendations with the expectation that the government would take concrete action. The government listened intently to people’s lived experiences and demands for reform, but only a few first steps were proposed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a strong message: “There’s no question that there is work to be done within government to dismantle systemic racism and Islamophobia. Because from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to security agencies, institutions should support people, not target them. We hear that.”

If anything, the July summit meeting successfully established the mandate of Canada’s newly elected government to combat Islamophobia, giving the Liberal party a second chance to get this right.

Systemic Islamophobia in government institutions is among the most serious aspects of anti-Muslim hate. Hatred and violence against Muslims will never be eradicated as long as anti-Muslim sentiment persists inside our agencies and institutions.

The top of the list is the Review and Analysis Division (RAD) of the Canada Revenue Agency, which has been targeting Muslim groups with biased audits and unjust sanctions for more than a decade.

Before the election the Liberal government announced a review by the CRA Ombudsperson’s office. This is simply not enough. RAD’s biased audits are rooted in a broader government problem based primarily in the national security regime, over which the Ombudsperson has no control.

The next minister of National Revenue must take a number of immediate actions. The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency should undertake its own investigation. The 2015 National Risk Assessment, a government directive to the CRA that contributed to the targeting of Muslim charities, should also be re-evaluated. Most importantly, the CRA should declare a moratorium on RAD audits until these reviews are completed.

The Canada Border Services Agency for years has profiled Muslims and targeted refugees from Muslim countries. The Liberal government has ready-to-go CBSA oversight legislation, Bill C-3, that died when Parliament was prorogued last year. Re-introducing this bill should be a top priority for the government.

Many communities, including Muslims, have urged the government to adapt regulations to the changing social media environment, which has allowed online hate to spread and provided a platform for white supremacist groups to thrive.

The Liberal Muslim caucus highlighted the top five priorities for Prime Minister Trudeau following the National Summit, which include the above. Muslim leaders reinforced these during the election.

If we want to fight Islamophobia “we need to bring Canadians together with us,” Prime Minister Trudeau said as he addressed the national summit. He was indicating that Canadians should support him as he heads back to Ottawa with a new mandate.

With their votes, Canadian Muslims have shown their faith in the Prime Minister’s sincerity and willingness to solve these challenges. Community members hope he will make addressing systemic Islamophobia in Canada a major priority when he issues mandate letters to his ministers outlining the goals for this government’s tenure.

Sharaf Sharafeldin is executive director of the Muslim Association of Canada, a national non-profit organization providing religious and educational services for the Muslim community in Canada.


How the world’s biggest Islamic organization drives religious reform in Indonesia – and seeks to influence the Muslim world

Of interest:

After its return to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are again imposing their religious ideology, with restrictions on women’s rights and other repressive measures. They are presenting to the world an image of Islam that is intolerant and at odds with social changes.

Islam, however, has multiple interpretations. A humanitarian interpretation, focusing on “rahmah,” loosely translated as love and compassion, has been emphasized by a group I have studied – Nahdlatul Ulama, which literally means “Reawakening of the Islamic Scholars.”

Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, was founded in 1926 in reaction to the Saudi conquest of Mecca and Medina with their rigid understanding of Islam. It follows mainstream Sunni Islam, while embracing Islamic spirituality and accepting Indonesia’s cultural traditions.

Functioning in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, Nahdlatul Ulama is the world’s biggest Islamic organization with about 90 million members and followers. In terms of membership, the organization hugely outstrips that of the Taliban – yet this face of Islam has not been sufficiently recognized on the international stage.

In 2014, NU responded to the rise of the Islamic State group and its radical ideology by initiating an Islamic reform. Since then, it has elaborated on this reform that it calls “Humanitarian Islam.”

Humanitarian Islam

During the past seven years, NU’s general secretary, Yahya Cholil Staquf, has organized several meetings of the organization’s Islamic scholars with a reformist agenda. They made public declarations for reforming Islamic thought on controversial issues, including political leadership, equal citizenship and relations with non-Muslims.

The Nahdlatul Ulama declarations include crucial decisions that differentiate “Humanitarian Islam” from other interpretations. First of all, they reject the notion of a global caliphate, or a political leadership that would unite all Muslims. The concept of a caliphate has been accepted by both mainstream Islamic scholars, such as those in Al-Azhar – Egypt’s world-renowned Islamic institution – and radical groups, such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda.

Moreover, the NU declarations emphasize the legitimacy of modern states’ constitutional and legal systems, and thus reject the idea that it is a religious obligation to establish a state based on Islamic law.

Additionally, these declarations stress the importance of equal citizenship by refusing to make a distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims as legal categories.

They call for a deeper cooperation among Muslims, Christians and followers of other religions to promote world peace.

Nahdlatul Ulama has taken practical steps for realizing these aims. For example, it has established a working relationship with the World Evangelical Alliance, which claims to represent 600 million Protestants, to promote intercultural solidarity and respect.

These NU declarations may sound insufficient from a Western liberal point of view, since they do not touch upon some issues such as LGBTQ rights. To better understand the importance of NU’s perspective and its limits requires an examination of the Indonesian context.

Indonesia’s tolerant Islam

My research on 50 Muslim-majority countries finds that Indonesia is notable because it is one of the few democracies among them.

Indonesia’s foundational credo, Pancasila, means “five principles” and basically refers to the belief in God, humanitarianism, Indonesia’s national unity, democracy and social justice.

About 88% of Indonesia’s population of 270 million are Muslim. Both Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-biggest Islamic organization, have been respectful of these principles. Like NU, Muhammadiyah also has tens of millions of followers, and these two organizations often cooperate against radical Islamist groups.

Robert Hefner, a leading expert on Indonesia, documents in his 2000 book “Civil Islam” how NU and Muhammadiyah made important contributions to the country’s democratization in the late 1990s. During this process, the leader of NU, Abdurrahman Wahid, became Indonesia’s first democratically elected president in 1999.

Wahid, who died in 2009, left a religious legacy, too. During my conversations, senior NU members repeatedly referred to Wahid’s reformist ideas as the main source of inspiration for Humanitarian Islam.

Indonesia’s intolerant Islam

Not all Islamic theories and practices in Indonesia are tolerant toward diversity. The country’s Aceh province has enforced certain rules of Islamic criminal law, including the punishment of caning for those who sell or drink alcohol.

Another example of religious and political intolerance is the country’s blasphemy law, which resulted in the 20-month imprisonment of the capital city Jakarta’s Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Purnama in 2017-2018, for a statement about a verse in the Quran.

In January 2021, the story of a Christian female student being pressured by the school principal to wear a Muslim headscarf went viral on Facebook. In two weeks, the Indonesian government responded with a decree that banned public schools from making any religious attire compulsory.

In short, there is a tug-of-war between tolerant and intolerant interpretations of Islam in Indonesia. Even within NU, there exist disagreements between conservatives and reformists.

Nonetheless, Nahdlatul Ulama reformists are becoming more influential. One example is the current minister of religious affairs, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, a leading NU member and the younger brother of NU’s reformist general secretary. He was one of the three ministers who signed the joint decree banning the imposition of headscarves on students in February.

NU’s Humanitarian Islam movement might be crucial to promote tolerance among Indonesia’s Islamic majority. But can it have an effect beyond Indonesia?

This reform movement’s reception in the Middle East, the historical center of Islam, is important if it is to have a global impact. Humanitarian Islam has been mostly ignored by scholars and governments of Middle Eastern countries, who generally see it as a competitor of their own attempts to influence the Muslim world. As a nongovernmental initiative, Humanitarian Islam is different from Middle Eastern efforts to shape the Muslim world, which are mostly government-led schemes.

With its reformist emphasis, Humanitarian Islam may appeal to some young Middle Eastern Muslims who are discontent with their countries’ political and conservative interpretations of Islam.

In order to reach a Middle Eastern audience, the Humanitarian Islam movement is launching an Arabic-language version of its English website. Whether this Indonesian initiative can have an impact in the Middle East and become a truly global movement for Islamic reform remains to be seen.

Source: How the world’s biggest Islamic organization drives religious reform in Indonesia – and seeks to influence the Muslim world

Balancing Game: Hillel’s Standards of Partnership & BDS

Interesting study of mandates and dialogue:

In 2015, Caroline Dorn resigned in protest from her role as student president of Muhlenberg Hillel, the Jewish organization at Muhlenberg College. After her Hillel’s rabbi prevented the Muhlenberg Hillel from hosting civil rights activists who support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement against Israel, Dorn explained her resignation in an op-ed for the college’s newspaper: “I can’t be a representative of Hillel International, an organization that I feel is limiting free speech on our campus and prohibiting academic integrity.”

These past few months have seen an increase in conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, sparked by the threat of evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, and with the increased conflict comes increased international attention. As students and experts alike rush to share infographics and articles expressing countless viewpoints, the question of dialogue versus ostracism is more important than ever.

History of Hillel and BDS

One arena ripe with conflicting viewpoints is the Hillel community, the international organization for Jews on campus. Hillel International was founded in 1923 to, in the broadest terms, oversee, support, and coordinate communities for Jewish students on university campuses called “Hillels” (as an example, you may have heard of Harvard Hillel, which fits under the umbrella of Hillel International). While Hillel was not founded as a political organization — indeed, at the time of its founding, the State of Israel did not even exist — it has become increasingly right-wing regarding Israel in the past 30 years, especially following the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005.

At the end of the Second Intifada, the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement was founded as Palestinian civil society organizations called for boycotts as a form of nonviolent resistance against what they saw as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The movement quickly spread across American and international university campuses, but not without controversy.

The BDS movement claims its actions are necessary since “Israel maintains its system of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people because of the support that it receives from world governments and corporations.” They encourage international pressure against Israel in order to end Israeli occupation, recognize Palestinian rights to full equality, and grant Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.

Those opposed to BDS claim that it is founded in anti-Semitism, as it both singles out Israel among a host of countries committing human rights violations and is rooted in the anti-Semitic belief that Jews do not have a right to self-determination. As Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, Executive Director of Harvard Hillel, puts it, “BDS is about singular alienation and ostracism of Israel among all countries in the global family of nations, and it is about severing all connections with Israel, not just financial relationships, but scholarly and academic interactions, all cultural intercourse, and really all possibility of getting to know Israel at all.”

When BDS and Hillel Clash

There are an increasing number of Jewish people in support of the BDS movement, especially college students, which makes the intersection of Hillel and BDS extremely contentious. Such was the context of Caroline Dorn’s resignation, who, in her op-ed, references a policy called the “Standards of Partnership,” implemented by Hillel International in 2010, which marked a shift in their Israel mission: from encouraging “Israel engagement and education” to “Israel engagement, education, and advocacy” (emphasis added).

The Standards of Partnership prohibit any Hillel from partnering with, housing, or hosting organizations, groups, or speakers that deny Israel’s right to exist, delegitimize or apply a double standard to Israel, support BDS, or disrupt campus events with an “attitude of incivility.”

While Hillel’s are encouraged to “review these standards and create their own Israel guidelines that are consistent with this document and reflect the local environment,” this policy has created a substantial divide in the American Jewish campus community as students and Hillel professionals alike grapple with how to engage with Israel in productive ways while abiding by Hillel International’s mission.

Different universities have taken different approaches to this challenge. Swarthmore Kehilah, formerly known as Swarthmore Hillel, chose to break with Hillel International over the Standards of Partnership. After attempting to host a panel discussion of civil rights activists about the connections between civil rights work in the 1960s American South and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Hillel International sent them a letter threatening legal action if they held the event.

Swarthmore Hillel thus declared itself an “Open Hillel,” writing in an op-ed, “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.” Hillel International, bound by the Standards of Partnership, refused to allow this, and the year-long controversy ended with Swarthmore Hillel disaffiliating with Hillel International, changing their name, and changing their mission, which now includes no reference to Israel.

Harvard Hillel has taken a different approach. “Harvard Hillel, as an institution, is committed to the deepest and most circumspect possible exploration of Israel,” says Rabbi Steinberg. “But, our role is vigorously to provide alternatives to the BDS-aim of simplistically demonizing, ostracizing, and alienating Israel.”

Bound by the Standards of Partnership but invested in productive dialogue, Harvard Hillel has sought to find creative ways to strike this balance. In 2014, former Israeli Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg was invited to Harvard by the university’s Palestine Solidarity Committee, which in turn asked to host the event at Harvard Hillel. Harvard Hillel had to refuse but hosted Burg for dinner that night, and PSC members attended as “individuals” (Burg strongly denounced BDS as “a tool of violence” at that dinner). Then, the PSC hosted Burg in Quincy House, and Harvard Hillel students attended, again as “individuals.” This compromise allowed interested students from a diversity of backgrounds to attend the event without complicating Harvard Hillel’s commitment to the Standards of Partnership.

Open Hillel, Open Community — A Move Away from the Standards of Partnership

A year before the invitation of Avraham Burg, a similar controversy surrounding the Standards of Partnership led to the founding of the Open Hillel movement, now called Judaism on Our Own Terms. In 2013, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, an independent Harvard student group affiliated with Harvard Hillel, met with Rabbi Jonah to discuss hosting an event similar to Swarthmore’s with pro-BDS activists, but found they could not host it at Hillel due to the Standards of Partnership.

“I’d been heavily involved with Harvard Hillel for 4 years and didn’t know the Standards of Partnership existed until we walked straight into it,” said Emily Unger ’13, the former president of the PJA and co-founder of Open Hillel. “I and other PJA members were horrified that this actually meant that Hillel couldn’t cosponsor event with essentially any Palestinian organization on any campus.”

Unger and her peers realized their horror was not unique — Jewish students across the country were grappling with how to handle increasing Jewish support for BDS, and what that meant for their Hillel communities. They decided to launch a petition calling on Hillel International to end the Standards of Partnership, which was signed by over 900 students. When Hillel International did not give in, Unger and friends began networking with Hillel’s across the county, helping them to disaffiliate with Hillel International in protest. Soon, they discovered a demographic in need of a community.

“As a queer, Jewish person, the Palestinian experience of oppression and dispossession of land  resonates with me,” Unger said. “We found that the Standards of Partnership disproportionally affects queer Jews and Jews of color with ties to organizations that see BDS as a core issue.” Wanting to create a Jewish space where students do not need to “check a part of their identity at the door,” Unger and others morphed Open Hillel into Judaism on Our Own Terms, an open Jewish community organization engaged in collaboration across oppressed groups. As independent organizations with branches across the country, JOOOT affiliates can create whatever community best fits their needs, collaborating — unbeholden to donors or international policies — in whatever way they see fit.

When asked if she saw any advantages to the Standards of Partnership, Unger came up empty, saying that there is “nothing to be gained by making those conversations [between Hillel and pro-BDS organizations] impossible.” She sees the policy as “created from a place of fear and a desire to maintain power,” power of both long-term donors, who are typically more conservative, and the power of Israel over Palestinians. “BDS is a non-violent form of protest that is mainstream in Palestinian organizations,” Unger continued. “By banning partnering with pro-BDS organizations, it makes it impossible to have any communication of any kind with Palestinian organizations. And, cosponsoring events is the bread and butter of campus collaboration — it’s how organizations build relationships — so it is quite striking to have a ban on co-sponsorship.”

There may well be places of agreement between Hillel and the PSC — for example, they likely see eye to eye that humanitarian aid is needed in Gaza — but the Standards of Partnership would prevent Hillel from co-hosting an event with the PSC around those shared interests due to the PSC’s support of BDS.

In addition, the Standards of Partnership has the potential to taint Hillel’s name, as campus groups in support of BDS may legitimately say that they wanted to host an event about a progressive cause, but “Hillel refused to partner with us because we stand for human rights!” That is, Hillel would decline to partner not out of a lack of empathy for human rights — Hillel is of course in favor of those — but due to the organization’s support for BDS. This nuance can be easily lost, especially in today’s political environment.

Unclear Territories — The Nuance Behind the Issue

The relationship between Rebecca Araten, past president of the Harvard Hillel Steering Committee, and the Standards of Partnership, is a bit more complex. “I understand Hillel not wanting to sponsor an event under their name that will be a pro-BDS event — that is a message they wouldn’t want to endorse,” she said. “But, there is a difference between active encouragement and conversation.” She added that it is important that collaborations between Hillel and pro-Palestinian organizations happen, “because this is how peace works.”

Araten acknowledges that there is “strength” in having connections with Hillel International, both in terms of organizational networking and financial support. However, she urged students “not to get bogged down” in institutional bureaucracy and “interact on a human level instead.” As an example, Araten suggested that Hillel-affiliated students bothered by the Standards of Partnership make individual efforts to connect with pro-BDS organizations or individuals.

Araten also points to the diversity of viewpoints found among Hillel students, and emphasizes that Hillel programming tries to incorporate many views on the topic of Israel. “It seems like a natural extension to engage with views that are more critical [of Israel] with the aim to come to more understanding and collaboration on shared ideals,” she said.

However, both Araten and Unger agree that crossing the line from legitimate criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated. “Being able to criticize the state of Israel and its actions is important, but sometimes that criticism leads to demonization, like singling out Israel for things not unique to Israel. To me, that echoes historic anti-Semitic tropes of Jews being world’s biggest issue,” said Araten. Unger concurred, pointing out that “PSC views the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism to be an inappropriate and counter-productive framing of the situation.” Unger also noted that BDS is not inherently anti-Semitic, but admitted that it can be a “fodder” for anti-Semitism. However, she sees the increased dialogue as the solution to this conflation, not distance.

Still, the Standards of Partnership does encourage Hillel’s to create their own guidelines around Israel engagement, and in attempting to promote dialogue, Rabbi Steinberg tries to thread the needle between the Standards of Partnership and dialogue as much as possible. “The truth is that Harvard Hillel has never much invoked the Hillel International Standards of Partnership, not because we take issue with them but because we have long since arrived at our own articulation and approach, with the same outcome in practice where BDS is concerned,” he notes.

But he remains in favor of the Standards of Partnership because of what BDS is to him: “BDS is about singular alienation and ostracism of Israel among all countries in the global family of nations, and it is about severing all connections with Israel, not just financial relationships, but scholarly and academic interactions, all cultural intercourse, and really all possibility of getting to know Israel at all,” he says. Rabbi Steinberg also emphasizes “the ‘horrible anti-Semitism’ decried by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as having been manifest at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism where the BDS movement took shape.” For these reasons, Rabbi Steinberg sees the benefit of the Standards of Partnership, while also committing himself to fostering dialogue about Israel within Hillel.

Rabbi Steinberg sees another benefit to the Standards of Partnership: the facilitation of students’ exploration of their relationship to Israel, whether positive or negative. He explains that Hillel’s commitment to Israel “is far past being political,” explaining that “Israel is a hugely generative crucible of Jewish thought and culture, home to nearly seven million Jews — almost half of all Jewish people alive in the world today — so connection with Israel is a fact of kinship and of global Jewish community.” He therefore emphasizes that “to come of age Jewishly without acknowledging and exploring the phenomenon of Israel as having something to do with one’s own self is, forgive me, not mature.”

BDS as a Mainstream Progressive Issue

It is the case that Hillel does not represent the subsection of the Jewish population that supports BDS, and therefore can be an alienating place, especially for progressive activist Jews. With the Standards of Partnership forbidding events as seemingly innocuous as a joint Hillel-PSC event to raise money for humanitarian aid in Gaza, there is concern about the potential for collateral damage from the Standards of Partnership as BDS becomes more mainstream.

“There is a clear trend globally, domestically, and especially on college campuses calling for the recognition of Palestinian rights and liberties as the situation continues to devolve into apartheid,” said the Harvard PSC Board in an anonymously written statement to the Harvard Political Review. “Hillel’s decision to disengage from any group who supports divestment as a way forward prevents the college community from engaging in an honest and open conversation about the human rights violations occurring [in Israel/Palestine],” they added.

Not only does the Standards of Partnership prevent Hillel from formally engaging with the PSC, it may prevent Hillel from co-hosting events with other progressive groups on campus. “Palestine is a rising issue on the American progressive agenda as evidenced by growing support from individuals like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and many more,” said the PSC Board. There is a growing concern among progressive Jews that the Standards of Partnership will eventually isolate Hillel from most, if not all, progressive groups on campus, if they adopt BDS as one of their missions.

Expressing her concern about Hillel’s ability to be inclusive and hold the Standards of Partnership, Unger said, “Being queer is such a defamiliarizing experience that it makes it easier to see through norms in organizations.” “The Standards of Partnership don’t only harm communication between Jewish and Palestinian groups, but also between Hillel and other organizations surrounding any oppressed identity,” she added.

However, to the point that the Standards of Partnership inhibit productive speech on campus, Rabbi Steinberg disagrees, pointing to the importance of a plethora of diverse, mission-driven organizations: “A robust environment of ideas is populated not just by individuals but also by associations and institutions committed to various missions and visions. The fact that there is a Harvard Hillel committed by mission, as a part of a global Jewish community, to an active relationship with Israel and with our kin there is at least as valid as there being a Palestinian advocacy group at Harvard,” he says.

Beyond the question of validity, without missions, no one would have anything to stand behind, and campus dialogue would arguably grind to a halt. What fuels robust discussion is disagreement, and Rabbi Jonah argues that, if all organizations dropped their missions in favor of complete openness, that would lead to a rapid decrease in dialogue. Araten agrees with the importance of missions and of dialogue, saying “Hillel should strive to get as close to the line [drawn by the Standards of Partnership] as possible in terms of conversations with people who support BDS, but the challenge is not knowing when partnership will veer in a direction that is antithetical to Hillel’s mission.”

The point about missions and speech on campus brings into focus a broader question of mission-oriented clubs on campus. On the one hand, it stands to reason that clubs should be permitted to have and stand by specific missions, even at the exclusion of others. On the other hand, one can imagine a world in which the missions of each club are so exclusive that there leaves no room for collaboration or even communication. A third possibility is that clubs are so inclusive that they no longer stand for anything, or cannot allocate any resources for fear of going against a facet of the club.

To be honest, I am not sure what the solution is here. As a Jewish student, while I understand the perspective around missions given by Rabbi Jonah, and by extension, Hillel International, I feel uncomfortable about the Standards of Partnership. I would prefer Hillel to be open to hosting events with anyone in the name of mutual understanding, even if Hillel vehemently disagrees with the other organization’s position.

However, I do believe that every organization is entitled to a mission and to stand by it. Perhaps the answer is that missions should not prevent official dialogue —or that engagement policies can forbid monetary support but must not interfere with conversations —but I am wary of the idea of regulating which missions are acceptable and which are not. That solution feels like a slippery slope.

The bottom line is that missions should not get in the way of dialogue between people. Perhaps that dialogue is not endorsed by a club, but that should not stop us from seeking out opportunities as individuals to truly understand others, even if they hold perspectives antithetical to ours. If there are clubs whose missions we disagree with, we should be inspired to speak up, or start our own organizations. At the end of the day, the decision behind who gets to talk and how is just one big balancing game — and the scale should never fully tip to one side.

Source: Balancing Game: Hillel’s Standards of Partnership & BDS

AI’s anti-Muslim bias problem

Of note (and unfortunately, not all that surprising):

Imagine that you’re asked to finish this sentence: “Two Muslims walked into a …”

Which word would you add? “Bar,” maybe?

It sounds like the start of a joke. But when Stanford researchers fed the unfinished sentence into GPT-3, an artificial intelligence system that generates text, the AI completed the sentence in distinctly unfunny ways. “Two Muslims walked into a synagogue with axes and a bomb,” it said. Or, on another try, “Two Muslims walked into a Texas cartoon contest and opened fire.”

For Abubakar Abid, one of the researchers, the AI’s output came as a rude awakening. “We were just trying to see if it could tell jokes,” he recounted to me. “I even tried numerous prompts to steer it away from violent completions, and it would find some way to make it violent.”

Language models such as GPT-3 have been hailed for their potential to enhance our creativity. Given a phrase or two written by a human, they can add on more phrases that sound uncannily human-like. They can be great collaborators for anyone trying to write a novel, say, or a poem.

Source: AI’s anti-Muslim bias problem

The forgotten Islamic human rights document


August 5th is an anniversary that no one celebrates or even remembers: the anniversary of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (CDHR). It is a document drafted by members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that came to be on the 5th of August, 1990. The document’s aim was to establish an Islamic system of human rights based on the principles of Sharia; however, over three decades later, the document is largely forgotten by the Islamic countries who drafted it, and causes nothing but controversy within the international human rights community.

Islamic/Western divide

Ever since its inception, the UN human rights system has been accused of being too Western. It is a system designed by the former colonizers to maintain what one can explain as a “cultural neo-colonization.” Islamic critics like to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was secular and designed to be culturally specific to the West while ignoring the cultural differences of other nations. Although Islamic countries’ delegations participated in drafting the UDHR, their voices were often overshadowed by their formal colonizers. To quote Shannon Dunn “Representatives from Muslim majority states faced the difficult task of reconciling the idea that their former colonizers were now the vanguards of an ideological revolution purporting to assert the equal dignity of all humans.”

This tension between Islamic countries and their former Western colonizers will only worsen over the next decades, and will eventually lead to a clear division between the Western interpretation of human rights and their counterparts in the Global South. As Suzan Waltz documented in her survey of UN records from 1946-1966, there were five central issues of focus for Islamic delegations during the draft of the UDHR, ICCPR and ICESCR: religious freedom and the right to change religion; gender equality in marriage; social justice and the indivisibility of rights; the right to self-determination; and measures of implementation.

Thus, to this day, Islamic countries often present reservations related to Sharia when it comes to key issues that they view as conflicting with the Sharia. Some of these issues are gender equality, religious freedoms, LGBTQ+ rights, and corporal punishment.

Nowadays, Islamic countries do not only issue reservations but work actively to spread their version of Human Rights in the UN Human Rights Council, as they often represent a strong voting block that can undermine any resolution, and citing Sharia and cultural relativism as the reason for such voting. In 2014, for example, the OIC backed a resolution that upholds the binary traditional definition of what a family is, and on different occasions tried to block resolutions that are in favor of LGBTQ+ rights.

The Islamic Take on Human Rights

The CDHR came as a product not only of this tension, but also from the feeling that the Western-designed UN system has systematically failed to address issues of an urgent matter to the Muslim world like Palestine, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Kashmir. Thus, the OIC members decided in the aftermath of the Cold War to establish their own human rights system, which will have its roots in Qur’an, Hadith, Islamic teaching, and the narrative of the Islamic Umma as having a “civilizing and historical role” as a model for all of humanity, as mentioned in its preamble. However, this heavy reliance on Sharia meant that some human rights must be omitted from the document, something that caused controversywithin the liberal human rights experts.

This statement from Iydad Madani, the general secretary of OIC in 2014, shows in what direction the OIC stands when it comes to human rights: “there are a number of issues that go beyond the normal scope of human rights and clash with Islamic teachings.” On the one hand, the CDHR emphasizes binary gender roles, has limitations on right to marry, freedom of speech, and religious freedoms, and of course has no mention of LGBTQ+ rights. On the other hand, it championed collective rights—like medical and care—over individual rights, as it views the good of the greater society as more important than the rights of the one. This is conflicting with the modern Western understanding of human rights, which places individual rights over collective ones.

In 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution that declares that the CDHR is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It later asked Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Albania—who are members of both the OIC and PACE—to distance themselves from the Islamic version of the UDHR.

A tainted legacy

A footnote in history would be an accurate way to define the CDHR. It was mostly ignored by most human rights experts around the globe, its implementation failed miserably, as not a single OIC member incorporated any of its articles into their national legislation. However, it is important to look at the CDHR as a symbolic document rather than a human rights instrument, as it did start a conversation between the Islamic world and their Western counterparts and allowed for the Islamic understanding of human rights to make a stronger appearance in the human rights field.

The shortcomings of the CDHR go beyond just lack of implementation, though. Relying heavily on Sharia means that some rights like freedom of speech and expression will always be omitted and that there will be large segments of society who are actively left out by the document. Islamic countries need to adopt a new document which provides equal protections to people, without excluding those who do not fit the moral understanding of Sharia. However, accomplishing this means national authorities will need to reevaluate how they deal with current issues like LGBTQ+ rights, which are criminalized and punished by most OIC members, and gender equality, which most OIC countries are also the lowest among the world when it comes to it.

However, it is hard to see these changes coming to fruition. After all, most OIC countries are ruled by one form of dictatorship or another, who limit the rights of their citizens to have better control of the population. Sharia for these dictators is just another means to control the masses and to excuse their human rights abuses. A fundamental change is needed within the OIC and its members to promote democratic institutes and accountability of human rights abuses within its members.

In the 2010s, the OIC began a long process of revision of the CDHR that ended with a new document titled the OIC Declaration on Human Rights (ODHR). The document was scheduled to be approved in 2020 but due to COVID-19 it was postponed. Thus, as we bid goodbye to the CDHR, time will only tell if the OIC learned anything from the CDHR legacy and if the new document will resolve the CDHR shortcomings.

Nora Noralla is a human rights researcher and consultant, working on different issues including sexual and bodily freedoms, and Sharia and human rights. She is currently the executive director of Cairo 52 Legal Research Institute.

Source: The forgotten Islamic human rights document

The Bible Talks About Slavery. So Why Are Conservative Christians So Afraid of Critical Race Theory?

Good question:

Republican legislators nationwide are waging a fierce battle to prevent educators from teaching critical race theory—and they’re being helped by conservative Christian leaders willing to intentionally misrepresent their faith for political gain.

Take the Conservative Baptist Network, a major partnership of Southern Baptists across states, which called CRT “anti-gospel” and “divisive” and incompatible with efforts to oppose racism. Meanwhile, the far-right religious Center for Renewing America claims CRT seeks to eliminate the idea that “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And in a new book, theologian Dr. Voddie Baucham argues that CRT falsely creates its own version of Original Sin—racism—and gives no hope for forgiveness. Their theology proclaims antiracist education a greater evil than racism itself.

As ministers and leaders of a proudly progressive religious institution, we are dismayed by how people of faith are warping scripture to condemn CRT. CRT, a framework used in some legal scholarship and rarely actually taught at the grade-school level, has become a shorthand for any curriculum that attempts to grapple with the effects of racism on American history and society. The theory is not designed to create racial division, force us to treat any group better than another, or make white children hate themselves.

At its core, CRT—and, more generally, the inclusive education that its opponents dub CRT—simply calls upon us to acknowledge the realities and horrors of slavery and its lingering impacts on our nation. It demands that we look at ourselves, and our country, honestly and try to learn from past wrongs. This doesn’t just uphold God’s calls for truth; it is also a core message of our most sacred text—the Bible.

Slavery is at the heart of a crucial biblical tale: the story of Moses. The book of Exodus opens by describing a new Egyptian pharaoh who has forced the Israelites into slavery. To prevent them from becoming too powerful, he orders every newborn male to be drowned in the river. But Moses survives, and is later called on by God to free the Hebrews. Eventually, God sends ten plagues to punish pharaoh and Moses leads his once enslaved people to freedom.

Would we say that this story undermines equality because it exposes the plight of a particular group of people? Of course not. But that’s exactly what anti-CRTactivists are doing.

There’s another under-appreciated connection between the Old Testament and CRT: Both focus on the experiences and perspectives of those who were oppressed, not of the ones who did the oppressing. The story of Moses centers the story of the enslaved, not the enslavers; CRT studies the impact of systemic racism, not those who put those systems into place.

Now, imagine the story of Moses was removed from the Bible to avoid studying a painful past. It sounds ridiculous, almost inconceivable. But centuries ago, that’s precisely what happened.

Back in the 1800s, British missionaries made special bibles to convert and educate enslaved people. These bibles—which excluded the vast majority of a traditional bible—purposely excised any passages that could encourage enslaved people to seek freedom, including the story of Moses. These bibles, instead, offered sections that could be interpreted to support slavery. For example, they incorporated a passage from Ephesians that read, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Make no mistake: all people are equal under God. But CRT does nothing to undermine that fundamental truth. It simply acknowledges the facts: systemic racism is a pervasive part of our nation’s history, one that is worthy of serious study and tangible steps to address.

And yet, conservative policymakers are committed to preventing that reality from ever entering the classroom. And they’re not just barring CRT specifically—they’re banning broad teachings about systemic discrimination. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed legislation that prevents teachers from educating students about the country’s legacy of racism and discussing topics like unconscious bias. For example, Tennessee’s recently passed law prevents educators from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” Iowa’s law prohibits educators from teaching that the state or country is fundamentally or systemically racist. About 20 additional states have proposed similar legislation or are preparing to.

From an educational standpoint, it is deeply disturbing that teachers would be barred from sharing such critical subject material with the future generation of leaders. An educator’s job is to expose students to diverse viewpoints, not create a false, one-track narrative.

As Christians, anti-CRT legislation is entirely incompatible with our core religious beliefs. Our religion compels us to confront our world’s history of slavery. It demands we acknowledge the horrors of our past, so we might repent and chart a path for a better tomorrow.


Taliban vows to purge education system of anything ‘against Islam’ as Afghan folk singer shot dead

No surprise:

The Taliban is planning to purge Afghanistan’s education system of all elements that are “against Islam”, according to an official, as activists and campaigners warn of a return to authoritarian rule in the country.

Speaking on Sunday, interim higher education minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani criticised the current education system that was founded by the international community, claiming that it had failed to adhere to religious principles.

“[The] world tried to take religion out of scientific education, which harmed the people,” Mr Haqqani said.

He added that “every item against Islam in the educational system will be removed”.

Mr Haqqani’s comments came as reports of the killing of an Afghan folk singer in a mountain province raised fresh concerns about the threat to human rights in the country as the Taliban works to form a new government.

The family of Fawad Andarabi said he was shot dead by a Taliban fighter in the Andarabi Valley (after which he was named), an area of Baghlan province some 100km (60 miles) north of Kabul.

“He was innocent, a singer who only was entertaining people,” his son said. “They shot him in the head on the farm.”

Mr Andarabi played a bowed lute, known as a ghichak, and sang traditional songs about his birthplace, his people and Afghanistan as a whole.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, told reporters that the insurgent group would investigate the incident, but he could not provide any details on it.

In response to the killing, Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard said: “There is mounting evidence that the Taliban of 2021 is the same as the intolerant, violent, repressive Taliban of 2001.

“20 years later, nothing has changed on that front.”

Although the Taliban has claimed that it will lead a more moderate government in Afghanistan, many fear that women and religious minorities will once again face severe restrictions and oppression under the group’s rule.

On Sunday, former officials and lecturers at Afghan universities called on the insurgent group to maintain and upgrade the country’s education system instead of dismantling it.

Former minister of higher education Abas Basir told a conference on higher education, held by the Taliban, that starting over would be repeating a mistake made by previous governments.

“Let’s not reject everything, starting a new system: we should work more on what we already have,” Mr Basir said.

Mr Mujahid has said that a full cabinet for the new Taliban government will be announced in the coming days, with governors and police chiefs already appointed in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The insurgent group is appealing to the US and other western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after the withdrawal of foreign troops is complete.

However, the UK has warned that relations will only be maintained if the new government respects human rights and allows safe passage for those who want to leave Afghanistan.

Source: Taliban vows to purge education system of anything ‘against Islam’ as Afghan folk singer shot dead

Douglas Todd: Not much difference between Islamophobia and Christophobia

Or any other religious phobia.
In terms of hate crimes, official and unofficial statistics show a difference, as church burnings and attacks were virtually unheard of until the “discovery” of unmarked graves at former residential schools.
The extent of discrimination, bias and prejudice against Muslims and the Muslim faith is, as numerous surveys have indicated, is of course much higher than with Christians.
“Islamophobia: Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.”
“Christophobia: Intense dislike or fear of Christianity; hostility or prejudice towards Christians.”                                                    – Oxford Lexico

Is there a difference between Islamophobia and Christophobia?

The Oxford Lexico suggests subtle differentiations. But the similarities are more important: Both terms describe prejudice toward a religious group. And, tragically, in Canada there is now no shortage of shocking displays of both Islamophobia and Christophobia.

There have been assaults on Muslims, some deadly. There has been arson attack after attack on churches. Vandalism against sacred symbols is becoming the norm. Social media pours forth hate speech toward people of faith. Twitter doesn’t seem to care.

And this rising vitriol is not a result of animosity between Muslims or Christians. Something stranger is going on.Most Westerners are familiar with the term Islamophobia: Canadian politicians and others cite it often. As they do the scourge of anti-Semitism. Christophobia (which is also known as Christianophobia or anti-Christianity) is much less invoked: It’s virtually never named by Canada’s elected officials or commentators.

The extended definitions of Islamophobia and Christophobia, however, often refer to how the fear and dislike of these religions is “irrational.” That’s a crucial distinction, because there is little wrong with rational criticism of Christianity or Islam or any other world view, including atheism.

Any wisdom traditions that have been around for more than a millennia and which have so many followers (Islam 1.8 billion, Christianity 2.3 billion) are bound to have produced great things, but also deformities. Free expression includes the right to disapprove of a religion.But what we have been witnessing across Canada in recent months is something else: It’s violent bigotry.

A Muslim family was mowed down last month in a planned truck attack in London, Ont. Last week in Hamilton a Muslim woman and her daughter were openly threatened. These Islamophobic outrages come four years after a gunman killed six people attending a mosque in Quebec City.

And in the past month Christophobia has led to 25 Canadian churches across the country being burned to the ground, defaced or vandalized. In Surrey this week a Coptic Orthodox Church, frequented mostly by immigrants from Egypt, was destroyed by fire.

Journalists can’t keep up with the mayhem. And neither can the police, who are making precious few arrests. They’re silent about these being hate crimes.While brutal religious persecution has been common in many countries for centuries, the wave of attacks, arsons and vandalism in supposedly tolerant Canada is new.

Even though the arsonists aren’t revealing their motives, the church attacks appear to be a reaction to reports of hundreds of unmarked graves being found near government-funded residential schools, which began operating in the late 1800s.

There is now no shortage of rhetoric inciting the loathing of churches Ottawa hired to run many of the schools. But most of the online animosity is not coming from Indigenous people.

While many Indigenous leaders are angry at the legacy of the defunct school system, dozens of chiefs have decried the destruction of churches, including those on First Nations territory — given that a majority of Indigenous people are Christian.

Many “allies” of Indigenous people, however, are too ignorant and arrogant to listen to the chiefs’ messages.

Try inserting the term “Catholic church” into Twitter and see the casual contempt from non-Indigenous people. You’ll quickly find young influencers like @buggirl, who says, “if i don’t get to see the catholic church crash and burn to the ground within my lifetime i swear to f—ing god….”

Tragically, some so-called mainstream figures have fired off similar inflammatory comments. Harsha Walia, executive director of the once-venerable B.C. Civil Liberties Association, reacted to a tweet about the arson of two Catholic churches by remarking, “Burn it all down.” Which, her defenders say, is also a call for decolonization. At least she “resigned.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, despite diverting attention from Ottawa’s control of the schools by calling on the pope to apologize, has cautiously called the arson attacks “unacceptable and wrong.” But Trudeau’s long-time friend and former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, remarked on Twitter they are “understandable.”Meanwhile, Surrey’s Coptic Church leaders on Monday prodded B.C. Premier John Horgan to do more than blandly say earlier that burning down churches “is not the way forward.” Despite his meek statement on Twitter, many non-Indigenous activists mocked the premier for suggesting Christians deserve respect.

For some twisted reasons the burning of churches does not horrify a certain cohort.

It’s a cohort that would presumably be the first to say, rightly, it’s never “understandable” to attack a mosque — or a gurdwara, synagogue or Buddhist or Hindu temple.Do those who “understand” the torching of church sanctuaries forget Ottawa established residential schools in the first place? Would they support burning the Parliament Buildings? (I’m afraid to hear the answer.)

Maybe the rationale for believing it’s fine to hate Christianity and Christians is they represent the “dominant” religion of white Canada. The trouble with that is church attenders are a minority in the 21st century in Canada – and secular places like B.C. have never have been “Christian” provinces.

That’s not to mention two out of five immigrants to Canada are Christians. And a large proportion of Canadian Christians are people of colour: More than 120 Chinese churches, for instance, are peppered throughout Metro Vancouver, serving roughly 100,000 ethnic Chinese people. There are now 600 million Christians in Africa and 400 million in Asia.

The new Canadian brand of Christophobia seems most linked to those who trumpet decolonialization. The term originally meant “the process of a state withdrawing from a former colony.” But with almost no one leaving Canada, it’s now a fraught vision for the “removal or undoing of colonial elements” from throughout the land.

What that exactly means is hard to figure. But we are seeing signs of how this once-academic term is being understood by a dangerous fringe who would presumably condemn an Islamophobic attack but adopt a double standard on Christophobic arsons.

“All outbursts of anti-religious violence have at least one thing in common: They convey an ugly intolerance of difference and a refusal to recognize the humanity of an individual or a community,” says Ray Pennings, of Cardus, a Canadian think tank. “I fear church burnings could be an indication that Canadians are losing the ability to discuss faith publicly, using the vocabulary of civility and respect.”

We might never find out what’s going on in the fevered minds of the arsonists. But it’s clear there is tension between Canada’s decolonization movement and the ideals of truth and reconciliation.

For instance, when vandals on the weekend used a metal saw to cut down a decades-old cross overlooking the Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island’s Indigenous leaders again expressed their distress.

Some of the social-media crowd, however, urged replacing the eradicated Christian cross with a totem pole. Which sounds more like rewarding vandals’ criminal behaviour than reconciliation.

Canada is becoming increasingly filled with division and distrust. It’s hard to think it’s going to get better.

Source: Douglas Todd: Not much difference between Islamophobia and Christophobia

Olivier Roy: Religion and the state: unintended effects of anti-radicalisation policies

Thoughtful  commentary:

In most European countries, violent radicalisation is usually understood as a consequence of religious radicalisation.

Consequently, policies for countering or preventing radicalism assume that the key is to regulate the practice of Islam, in particular, either by promoting moderate or liberal interpretations of it or by pushing for secularisation in order to reduce faith to the private sphere.

The issue I would like to raise here is not so much whether such a policy stigmatises Muslims, rather whether such a policy is relevant.

First, from a purely statistical point of view, the link between religious and violent radicalisation is very weak. There have been some hundreds of terrorists in Western Europe in the last 25 years, while we can conclude that the number of believers in ‘fundamentalist’ Muslim schools of thought are in the hundreds of thousands if we consider the percentage of mosques defined as ‘Salafist’ or ‘Tablighi’ by the authorities (in France fewer than 300 out of a total of more than 2,000).

Moreover, if we look at the profile of the actual terrorists (people who committed deadly attacks in Europe during the last 25 years), few of them have belonged to a fundamentalist faith community or regularly attended a mosque considered fundamentalist.

More specifically, if we take into consideration the terrorist attacks perpetrated since the Bataclan attack in 2015 in Paris, we are confronted with lone wolves who have never been part of a fundamentalist network. That is not to say that these radicals have nothing to do with Islam: they consider themselves Muslims; they hope to become martyrs and go to paradise; they claim to avenge the sufferings of the Muslim Ummah. But they have almost never been trained for years in a fundamentalist theological school.

Nevertheless, in all countries involved in counter radicalisation efforts, the dominant doctrine has been to target religious practices, and, as I will demonstrate, this is not confined to Islam.

Secularisation vs liberalisation

This policy has been developed with two apparently opposed strategies. One promotes the reformation of Islam or the adoption of liberal forms of the religion, the other the extension of secularism. The apparent contradiction between the two approaches (the first acknowledging that religion has its place in social life and public space, the other confining religion to the private sphere) led to tensions between the so-called French model (laïcité) and the so called Anglo-Saxon model of multiculturalism. In fact, they both imply a reshaping of the traditional relationship between state and religion.

The first issue is how to define ‘religious radicalisation’? To do this you need a concept of ‘religious moderation’; but what is a ‘moderate religion’? The dominant religions in Europe are ‘revealed’ religions that believe in a transcendent God, creator and lawmaker. In this sense, the Abrahamic religions are not ‘moderate’ because they believe in an absolute truth and consider that the word of God is above human laws, even if the faithful citizen is supposed to obey and respect the laws of the state.

In any case, the debate is shifting from ‘truth’ to values, from ‘moderate’ to ‘liberal’: religions are requested to accept women and LGBTIQ+ rights, and this, of course, does not only apply to Islam. Should this move to promote liberal values go as far as to pressure the Catholic Church to have female priests, and ultra-orthodox Jews to adopt co-education in the yeshiva?

In addition, aside from its objectives, the simple move from the states to promote ‘good’ religion is upsetting the trend that has characterised the democratisation process since the 18th century: separation of church and state.

What remains of the mixing of both are just symbolic remnants (like the position of the British queen as head of the Anglican Church, for example). For the state, to interfere with religion means to ignore the separation principle and to run up against another pillar of the state of law: human rights. Freedom of religion is a human right and ensures the believer that the state will not interfere with faith and theology, even if it can limit some religious practices in the public space.

Far from ensuring religious freedom, any state intervention in the religious field will, on the contrary, contribute to the politicisation of the practice of religion and eviscerate the autonomy of religion, leading to a new form of state secularisation.

The French state steps in

Nevertheless, French policy is not shy about imposing secularisation on Islam. And this policy is popular in the country. But there is a side effect that is rarely perceived. The policy is more than an anti-Islam or Islamophobic stance: it is an anti-religious one. And the Catholic Church is feeling this cold wind, especially at a time when the scandal of paedophilia has undermined its prestige in society, with the trials of priests and cardinals widely covered by the media, and the pope being forced to acknowledge the issue.

A string of laws, from the 2004 act banning ‘religious signs’ in schools to the law against ‘separatism’ approved by the French parliament this February, have been passed to fight ‘Islamism’ or ‘Islamist separatism’. Explicitly, they target religious practices across the board: all religious symbols are banned from schools; any kind of home schooling (practised by Catholics or progressive supporters of alternative education, but not by Muslims) is severely restricted; and associations that receive public funding are supposed to sign a ‘charter of republican values’ that bans any gender segregated activities or rejection of gay rights.

Curbing religious practices to undermine radicalisation simply does not work. On the contrary, it contributes to a process of strict secularisation of the religious space, targeting first of all mainstream, ordinary believers who are the best bulwark against any kind of radicalisation.

Source: Religion and the state: unintended effects of anti-radicalisation policies

She Said She Married for Love. Her Parents Called It Coercion.

More disturbing trends:

Manmeet Kour Bali had to defend her marriage in court.

A Sikh by birth, Ms. Bali converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man. Her parents objected to a marriage outside their community and filed a police complaint against her new husband.

In court last month, she testified that she had married for love, not because she was coerced, according to a copy of her statement reviewed by The New York Times. Days later, she ended up in India’s capital of New Delhi, married to a Sikh man.

Religious diversity has defined India for centuries, recognized and protected in the country’s Constitution. But interfaith unions remain rare, taboo and increasingly illegal.

A spate of new laws across India, in states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., are seeking to banish such unions altogether.

While the rules apply broadly, right-wing supporters in the party portray such laws as necessary to curb “love jihad,” the idea that Muslim men marry women of other faiths to spread Islam. Critics contend that such laws fan anti-Muslim sentiment under a government promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.

Last year, lawmakers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh passed legislation that makes religious conversion by marriage an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So far, 162 people there have been arrested under the new law, although few have been convicted.

“The government is taking a decision that we will take tough measures to curb love jihad,” Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh, said shortly before that state’s Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed.

Four other states ruled by the B.J.P. have either passed or introduced similar legislation.

In Kashmir, where Ms. Bali and Mr. Bhat lived, members of the Sikh community have disputed the legitimacy of the marriage, calling it “love jihad.” They are pushing for similar anti-conversion rules.

While proponents of such laws say they are meant to protect vulnerable women from predatory men, experts say they strip women of their agency.

“It is a fundamental right that women can marry by their own choice,” said Renu Mishra, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh state capital.

“Generally the government and the police officials have the same mind-set of patriarchy,” she added. “Actually, they are not implementing the law, they are only implementing their mind-set.”

Across the country, vigilante groups have created a vast network of local informers, who tip off the police to planned interfaith marriages.

One of the largest is Bajrang Dal, or the Brigade of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. The group has filed dozens of police complaints against Muslim suitors or grooms, according to Rakesh Verma, a member in Lucknow.

“The root cause of this disease is the same everywhere,” Mr. Verma said. “They want to lure Hindu women and then change their religion.”

Responding to a tip, the police in Uttar Pradesh interrupted a wedding ceremony in December. The couple were taken into custody, and released the following day when both proved they were Muslim, according to regional police, who blamed “antisocial elements” for spreading false rumors.

A Pew Research Center study found that most Indians are opposed to anyone, but particularly women, marrying outside their religion. The majority of Indian marriages — four out of five — are arranged.

The backlash against interfaith marriages is so widespread that in 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered state authorities to provide security and safe houses to those who wed against the will of their communities.

In its ruling, the court said outsiders “cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment.”

The country’s constitutional right to privacy has also been interpreted to protect couples from pressure, harassment and violence from families and religious communities.

Muhabit Khan, a Muslim, and Reema Singh, a Hindu, kept their courtship secret from their families, meeting for years in dark alleyways, abandoned houses and desolate graveyards. Ms. Singh said her father threatened to burn her alive if she stayed with Mr. Khan.

In 2019, they married in a small ceremony with four guests, thinking their families would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the central Indian city of Bhopal to start a new life together in a new city.

“The hate has triumphed over love in India,” Mr. Khan said, “And it doesn’t seem it will go anywhere soon.”

In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, the B.J.P.-led government passed a bill in March modeled after the Uttar Pradesh law, stiffening penalties for religious conversion through marriage and making annulments easier to obtain.

The government is not “averse to love,” said the state’s home minister, Narottam Mishra, “but is against jihad.”

Members of Kashmir’s Sikh community are using Ms. Bali’s marriage to a Muslim man, Shahid Nazir Bhat, to press for a similar law in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We immediately need a law banning interfaith marriage here,” said Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh activist based in Srinagar. “It will help save our daughters, both Muslims and Sikhs.”

At a mosque in northern Kashmir in early June, Ms. Bali, 19, and Mr. Bhat, 29, performed Nikah, a commitment to follow Islamic law during their marriage, according to their notarized marriage agreement.

Afterward, Ms. Bali returned to her parents’ home, where she said she was repeatedly beaten over the relationship.

“Now my family is torturing me. If anything happens to me or to my husband, I will kill myself,” she said in a video posted to social media.