India’s foreign minister rejects Biden’s ‘xenophobia’ comment

India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar delivers a speech during his visit to the India Coast Guard Ship Samudra Paheredar docked at a port in Manila on March 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2024
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India’s foreign minister rejects Biden’s ‘xenophobia’ comment

NEW DELHI: Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar rejected US President Joe Biden’s comment that “xenophobia” was hobbling the South Asian nation’s economic growth, The Economic Times reported on Saturday.
Jaishankar said at a round table hosted by the newspaper on Friday that India’s economy “is not faltering” and that it has historically been a society that is very open.
“That’s why we have the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), which is to open up doors for people who are in trouble ... I think we should be open to people who have the need to come to India, who have a claim to come to India,” Jaishankar said, referring to a recent law that allows immigrants who have fled persecution from neighboring countries to become citizens.
Earlier this week, Biden had said “xenophobia” in China, Japan and India was holding back growth in the respective economies as he argued migration has been good for the US economy.
“One of the reasons why our economy’s growing is because of you and many others. Why? Because we welcome immigrants,” Biden said at a fundraising event for his 2024 re-election campaign and marking the start of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast last month that growth in Asia’s three largest economies would slow in 2024 from the previous year.
The IMF also forecast that the US economy would grow 2.7 percent, slightly brisker than its 2.5 percent rate last year. Many economists attribute the upbeat forecasts partly to migrants expanding the country’s labor force.


UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

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UK ‘morally incoherent’ in supplying arms to Israel, aid to Gaza: Oxfam chief

  • Halima Begum criticizes stance of Britain, Western leaders

LONDON: Providing arms to Israel while offering humanitarian aid to Gaza at the same time is “intellectually and morally incoherent,” the head of Oxfam GB has told The Guardian.

The remarks followed Oxfam’s approval to formally intervene in a legal challenge opposing UK arms sales to Israel.

The judicial review is being brought by the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the UK-based Global Legal Action Network.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the majority being women and children, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.

Recent government data shows that the UK issued 108 arms export licenses to Israel between the Oct. 7 attacks and May 31, without rejecting or revoking any during this period.

Halima Begum, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, who recently returned from Israel and the occupied West Bank, criticized the UK’s stance.

She told The Guardian: “Whether you say they are components or whole weapons (being sold) is a moot point, because individual components collectively constitute these devices that are killing so many innocent people.

“The UK needs to stop selling these arms. The government can’t simultaneously give humanitarian aid and talk about its aspirations for peace in the region, then also ship bombs — it’s intellectually and morally incoherent.

“That the law doesn’t prevent the trade seems immaterial. If you knowingly sell weapons that are being used to kill thousands of innocent children and their parents, why would you continue?”

While Begum was unable to enter Gaza due to Israel’s attack on Rafah, she said she was left “shell-shocked” after hearing firsthand accounts of the humanitarian crisis from Palestinian colleagues evacuated from the enclave.

She highlighted historical precedents for the UK and US refusing to arm Israel, noting decisions in 1982 and 2002.

Begum said: “Margaret Thatcher halted weapons exports to Israel during the Lebanon War. Ronald Reagan suspended shipments of cluster munitions in July 1982 and he was reportedly so shocked by images of dismembered Palestinian children in a bombardment on Aug. 12 that he warned Israeli PM Menachem Begin ‘our entire future relations are at stake if this continues.’

“Israel ordered a complete ceasefire before the day was out. So, it wouldn’t be the first time a British or US government has drawn a moral line.”

She added: “Gazan children are being bombed, suffering from malnutrition and facing potential famine and the UK still can’t constrain the Israeli military. It defies belief we’d support this action; our humanity seems to be seeping away.”

Begum also noted that the Global South was largely unified on the need for action regarding Gaza and that it appeared to be “only Western leaders that don’t see what is morally the right thing to do.”

She added: “If you have a friend and their behavior is atrocious, you’re still able to say, ‘Look, as friends, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ That doesn’t mean you can’t offer your support to a friend.

“I feel as though that whole construction around Israel’s right to self-defense, every country has a right to defend themselves, but not at the cost of humanitarian law being ripped up in shreds, without any reference to human rights on the ground.”

The UK government declined to comment.
 


Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

Updated 16 June 2024
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Swedish diplomat in ‘seventh heaven’ following release from Iran

  • “I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said

STOCKHOLM: Swedish citizen Johan Floderus said he was in seventh heaven following his release from an Iranian prison on Saturday, in a recording published on the Swedish government’s website on Sunday.
Sweden and Iran carried out a prisoner exchange on Saturday with Sweden freeing a former Iranian official convicted for his role in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, while Iran released two Swedes being held there.
“I’m in the sky but emotionally I’m in seventh heaven. I have been waiting for this for almost 800 days,” Floderus said in a recording of a telephone call between him and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson while he was on the flight back to Sweden.
Floderus, a European Union employee, was arrested in Iran in 2022 and charged with spying for Israel and “corruption on earth,” a crime that carries the death penalty.
He said he had dreamt of the day of his release endless times. “Only to later wake up on that damn concrete floor,” he said. “Now it is starting to sink in that I have left Iranian airspace and I am on my way back home again.”
In a radio interview earlier on Sunday, Kristersson dismissed criticism from the wife of Swedish-Iranian dual national, Ahmadreza Djalali, who remains in an Iranian jail after Tehran refused to include him in the exchange.
“I have a lot of respect for her disappointment, but don’t really understand the criticism. The alternative would have been to leave the two Swedes who could now come home,” he told Swedish radio.


Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

Updated 16 June 2024
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Labour steps up efforts to win Muslim votes ahead of election

  • Party is targeting 13 typically pro-Labour seats with Muslim populations greater than a fifth of the total
  • Labour is concerned its record on Gaza might cost it support ahead of polling day, despite 63% planning to back it on July 4

LONDON: The Labour Party is increasing its campaigning in areas where it fears losing votes over its stance on the war in Gaza ahead of the upcoming UK general election on July 4.

The party has identified 13 typically pro-Labour constituencies in areas with large Muslim populations where it is directing activists to focus their activities.

Labour is set to win a vast majority at the election, but losing such seats could prove an embarrassment for leader Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour website identifies the 13 target constituencies with Muslim populations greater than 20 percent of the total on a larger list of 28 seats for people registering to canvass for the party ahead of the election. They include seats in the typical Labour strongholds of Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.

The party has already suffered at the hands of voters disgruntled by Sir Keir’s approach to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, losing the Rochdale by-election to former Labour MP George Galloway.

Nationwide local elections in May also saw a lower-than-expected turnout in some areas, with Muslim voters in particular avoiding voting for the party where they might once have been expected to after Sir Keir proved reluctant to back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and even suggested Israel “has the right” to cut off electricity and water supplies to the enclave.

Sir Keir later clarified he meant Israel had a “right to self-defense” and Labour has subsequently backed calls for a ceasefire, but some within the party fear significant damage has been done to its reputation with British Muslim voters.

The party is still expected to perform well overall with the Muslim community, with recent polling by Savanta suggesting 63 percent plan to vote Labour on July 4, many citing healthcare and the economy as more pressing concerns than Gaza. Around 20 percent of Muslim voters cited the war as their main electoral concern.

However, over 40 percent placed Gaza in their top five ranking of issues most important to them, with 86 percent of those also saying they would consider voting for an independent candidate running on a pro-Palestine platform.

The organization Muslim Vote has published a list of alternative candidates running on similar platforms, including calling for a ceasefire, sanctions on Israel and demanding more action on Islamophobia.

The director of the British Future think tank, Sunder Katwala, told the Observer: “I think it makes sense for (Labour) to worry, and to be seen to worry, and to be putting energy into (Muslim communities). Across the whole of British society, this is the demographic group where it’s most likely that Labour might slip backwards in support, not gain in support.

“The evidence in the local elections was of a surprisingly big impact. And the evidence in the national polling is of a surprisingly small impact. And that might be because voters are thinking strategically about the use of different elections.”

He added: “The Labour party is losing votes among Muslims and not any other group but is probably more popular among Muslims than any other section of the electorate.

“I think the (Muslim) student (activist) group is deserting Labour, and their mums and dads and grandparents are probably sticking with Labour much more.”


Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

Updated 16 June 2024
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Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

  • Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the majority Catholic population
  • President Marcos declared June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha

MANILA: Filipino Muslims across the country gathered on Sunday for Eid Al-Adha prayers to mark the Feast of Sacrifice.

There are some 12 million Muslims among the nearly 120 million, predominantly Catholic population, according to data from the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos collected in 2024.

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in Manila, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared Monday, June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha, the second of the two main holidays observed in Islam.

In the Philippine capital region, thousands of Muslims braved the rain for Eid prayers, gathering at the Quezon Memorial Circle for a communal prayer that began early in the morning.

“It rained as early as 5 a.m. First it was just drizzles, then there was a downpour, and then the rain stopped. Good thing that we were able to perform the prayer before it rained again,” Nords Maguindanao, a Muslim resident of Quezon city, told Arab News.

“There were thousands who came to celebrate Eid Al-Adha. The heavy rain did not stop us from congregating … Today we literally had to endure the rain, sacrifice our time and patience. The bad weather was really a test of patience. But overall what is important is that families are united on Eid.”

Maguindanao, who was with his wife and children, has attended the gatherings at Quezon Memorial Circle for years. It is one of the major venues for Eid celebrations in the area, the other being the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“The unity of Muslims in Quezon City was shown through this Eid prayer because of the overwhelming attendance of the city’s Muslim constituents,” he said.

Ali Macabalang, a local journalist from Kidapawan City in the country’s south, told Arab News that he gathered with hundreds of other Muslims at a small park to celebrate Eid this year.

“Eid Al-Adha for me is the very moment of performing or seeking atonement and renewal of connections to the Almighty Creator,” Macabalang said.

“After the prayer, the Imam delivered a sermon reminding Muslims of their duties not only to God but to the community, then to themselves. After that, families partake of the food, which is the basic component of every celebration.”

Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, and also marks the culmination of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

In Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, local authorities celebrated the holiday with reflections on their struggles over the years.

Bangsamoro, the only Muslim-majority territory in the Philippines covering central Mindanao, was until 2014 at the heart of a four-decades-long separatist struggle. The BARMM was formed in 2019 as part of the region’s transition to autonomy, which will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

“Today is a moment for every believer to remain true to our core values: that, amidst the challenges of life, the sacrifices we endure hold profound meaning and wisdom,” the BARMM’s chief minister, Murad Ebrahim, said.

“It is through the sacrifices and obedience of the Bangsamoro people that we have progressed in our struggle for justice and equality.”


What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

Updated 16 June 2024
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What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

  • Skepticism remains among Arab American community about whether Boulos can shape potential decisions by Trump
  • Many remain offended by Trump’s first-term immigration ban from several majority Muslim countries

LANSING: Donald Trump’s allies are working to win over Arab American voter s who are unhappy with President Joe Biden’s support for Israel.
The effort is led by Massad Boulos, whose son married Tiffany Trump, the former president’s younger daughter, two years ago. Boulos, a Lebanese-born businessman, is now using his connections in the Arab American community and meeting with its leaders in Michigan, home to many Arab American Democrats who are disenchanted with Biden.
But any apparent political opportunity for Trump may be limited. Many Arab Americans remain offended by Trump’s ban, while in office, on immigration from several majority Muslim countries and other remarks they consider insulting. Trump also has criticized Biden for not being a strong enough supporter of Israel.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Boulos outlined his outreach efforts and discussed his plans. Those who have met with him shared their thoughts on whether the strategy is working.
An unknown emissary
Boulos, who is frequently overseas managing a Nigerian-based conglomerate, first became directly involved in US politics in 2019 when he met Trump. At the time, his son Michael was dating Tiffany Trump.
Before the 2020 election, Boulos assisted with Arab American outreach in a minor role. His involvement has significantly expanded this year as Trump allies aim to exploit divisions within Biden’s Democratic base. Boulos is working closely with an Arab Americans for Trump group that has set up operations in Arizona and Michigan.
The Michigan meetings
In May, Massad and Michael Boulos traveled to metro Detroit with Richard Grenell, a key foreign policy adviser to Trump and his former ambassador to Germany, to meet with a group of close to 40 Arab American activists from across the country.
A little over a week later, Boulos returned for a more extensive round of engagements. He conducted individual meetings with several prominent community leaders and organized larger gatherings, each drawing nearly 50 Arab American community members.
Those who have engaged with Boulos so far are skeptical about the impact of these efforts. They note a lack of substantial evidence supporting the assertion that Trump is the better candidate for Arab Americans.
“Massad is unable to convince people to come to Trump’s side because he hasn’t offered anything substantial to the community,” said Osama Siblani, a publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn.
Electoral impact
Both major parties have focused on the Arab American vote due to the community’s significant population in Michigan, which is expected to play a decisive role in the presidential election.
Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Biden retook the state for the Democrats in 2020 by a roughly 154,000-vote margin.
Michigan holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, with more than 310,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to the most recent census.
More than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters in February cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the presidential race, enough to pick up two delegates. In two Muslim-majority Michigan cities, including Dearborn, which holds close to 110,000 people, the “uncommitted” vote defeated Biden in the Democratic primary.
The Trump connection
Boulos is the latest relative to rise in Trump’s political circle. The former president has a long history of putting family members and their relatives in key roles in his campaigns and at the White House.
Recently, Trump handpicked his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as the Republican National Committee’s co-chair.
During his first term, he appointed his daughter Ivanka as a senior White House adviser and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to oversee major issues such as Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and the government’s coronavirus response.
Boulos calls Trump a “family friend.” But Boulos insists that his outreach efforts so far have been “more of a personal effort to reconnect with friends.” He adds that the key messages emerging from meetings with Arab Americans are communicated to Trump and influenced a recent statement on the Middle East posted on Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social.
But to some attendees of the meetings, the direct connection to Trump matters little when Boulos can’t make promises on future policy.
“Family members are are fine. But at the end of the day, we have to sit down with someone who’s going to be a policymaker,” Siblani said. “And knowing Trump, only Trump can sit down and talk about his policy.”