Why Arabs Are Speaking Out Against Islamophobia in India?

In the past couple of weeks, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Kuwait government, a royal princess of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as a number of Arab activists have called out Islamophobic hate speech by Indians seen to be accusing the country’s Muslims of spreading the novel coronavirus.

A barrage of tweets and statements from individuals and institutions in the Gulf expressing their outrage over the hateful social media posts forced the Indian government to respond, including a Twitter post by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which he stressed that “COVID-19 does not see race [or] religion”.

It started with right-wing Hindus accusing Muslims of a “conspiracy” to spread the coronavirus after dozens of cases were linked to a congregation of Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary movement, at their headquarters in New Delhi in the middle of March.

Hashtags such as #CoronaJihad trended for days on Twitter and panellists in TV debates called them “human bombs”, while many called for a ban on Jamaat. Its New Delhi office has been sealed.

On April 19, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said more than 4,000 of the nearly 15,000 cases detected until that day were linked to the Jamaat, whose chief Mullah Saad Kandhalvi was charged with “culpable homicide” and money laundering and is likely to be arrested.

On Thursday, the total number of coronavirus cases in India was more than 33,000, with more than 1,000 deaths.

Arabs flag hateful posts

Following the Jamaat issue, a wave of Islamophobic posts was unleashed on social media by right-wing Hindus, some of them employed in Gulf countries.

Dubai-based Indian, Saurabh Upadhyay, asked Muslims to “accept they were the source of the pandemic” and called for the death of Jamaat members, describing them as “terrorists”. He deleted his tweets after social media users in the Gulf and India called him out.

Princess Hend al-Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, warned “openly racist and discriminatory” Indians in the Gulf that they “will be fined and made to leave” the country.

In the past month, at least six Hindus working in the Gulf region have lost their jobs or have been charged for their social media posts.

About 8.5 million Indians live and work in Gulf countries, a significant number of them Hindus.

India’s trading relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – has transformed considerably over the years, with the bilateral trade volume surpassing the $100b mark.

Diplomatic tensions

On Monday, in what was a clear sign of the issue escalating in the Arab world, Kuwait expressed its “deep concern” over the treatment of India’s Muslims and asked the Organisation of International Cooperation (OIC) to intervene.

“Did those who commit crimes against humanity against Muslims in India and violate their rights think that Muslims in the world will remain silent about these crimes and do not move politically, legally and economically against them?” a statement by the general secretariat of the Kuwait Council of Ministers said.

Earlier, on April 18, the OIC had issued a statement, urging India to take urgent steps to “stop the growing tide of Islamophobia” in the country.

A day after the OIC statement, Modi tweeted: “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking. Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood. We are in this together.”

In the week after Modi’s call for communal harmony, at least three Indian embassies in the Gulf region – Qatar, the UAE and Oman – tweeted about the shared values of “tolerance” and “pluralism” between India and the Arab world.

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