During the forced and prolonged school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest concerns of educationists and nutritionists around the world was the impact of the billions of school meals students were forced to miss.

As early as January 2021, barely a year after schools first shut their doors, a report by UNICEF and the World Food Programme said that as many as 39 billion school meals had been missed by schoolchildren around the world, notably in low and middle-income countries. The report also highlighted that 370 million children, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, had missed up to 40 percent of their school meals, a key source of nutrition for many, if not most, of them.

The first nationwide free school meal program was launched in Brazil as early as 1954. Initially, it was a targeted intervention, meant to address the issue of undernourishment and poor education among beneficiary families. Over the decades, the program was expanded when it was noticed that serving up balanced and nutritious hot meals in schools addressed not just issues of undernourishment and malnutrition, but also led to a significant rise in students’ academic performance.

Most other countries have since launched school meals programs. It is thought that more than 100 nations have such plans today. India, with more than 120 million students fed for free every day in 1.3 million schools, boasts the world’s largest free school meals program. It is acknowledged as having worked wonders in cutting dropout rates, as well as increasing attendance rates for primary schools, notably for girls.

A study found that average reading capability was 18 percent higher for children who ate school lunches for three to four years compared to those who had them for less than a year. In math, children with access to the program scored 9 percent higher.

It should come as no surprise that what was true for Brazil has proven to be true in rich and poor countries alike. It also has several other spinoff benefits. In many countries, the meals are cooked using food supplies that come from the vicinity, thus benefiting local farmers.

Over the past few years, even rich countries have introduced free school meals and extended the coverage to all students, instead of merely targeting poorer families. Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden were among the first European nations to offer free meals for all students.

One of the biggest impacts of the free meals program can be seen in the Middle East, where the World Food Programme, in association with other UN bodies and local nongovernmental organizations, has been ensuring access to free school meals for tens of thousands of children who live in conflict-ridden nations like Syria and Yemen. For instance, in Syria, one such intervention by the World Food Programme even covers more than 32,000 children who were forced to drop out of school because their families had to abandon their homes.

In Yemen, the problem is even bigger, as more than 2.2 million children under the age of five face malnutrition and more than 22 million people overall, including millions of school-age children, are faced with severe food insecurity. As a result, the World Food Program has mounted a $1.97 billion program to stave off mass starvation.

Unfortunately, the pandemic-induced two-year-long closure of schools had a severe impact on children’s health and education. A World Bank study found that the share of 10-year-olds in low and middle-income countries who are unable to read a simple story has risen from a pre-COVID-19 level of 57 percent to more than 70 percent. Another recent study, conducted in Malawi, found that seven months of school closures led to a loss of more than two years of foundational learning, with children forgetting concepts mastered before lockdown.

Underlining the importance of school meals, another study found that more than 179 million school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were living with hunger in 2021, an increase of 35 million from 2020. In Africa, almost 25 percent of school-age children were suffering from undernutrition.

Governments’ efforts to restore school meals programs have also had to face the challenge of extremely high food inflation, thanks mainly to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also due to high inflation across the entire economy. This has left many governments and schools struggling to keep the programs alive in their original form.

But it is crucial for governments and educationists all over the world to realize that now is not the time to tighten the belts on school meals; instead, the moment is right to enhance the budgets allocated to these programs. The World Food Programme says that most countries seriously underinvest in this area, despite the positive outcomes of investment and the extremely negative impact of not funding such programs adequately.

It adds that failing to invest in a well-nourished, healthy and educated population undermines growth and economic development. Take, for example, low-income countries in Africa. They account for 25 out of the 30 countries with the lowest ranking in the World Bank Human Capital Index. These nations face losses of economic potential ranging from 50 percent to 70 percent in the long term. The World Food Program says that Africa’s gross domestic product would be 2.5 times higher than today if it attained the benchmarks for health and education — the two basic objectives of providing free school meals.

According to some studies, while governments in low and lower-middle income countries invest about $210 billion annually in providing basic education, such as schools and teachers, they invest only about $1.4 billion to $5.5 billion in ensuring the children have the health and nutrition to allow them to learn.

With a number of proven immediate, short-term, medium-term and long-term benefits of giving nutritious meals to schoolchildren, it is time that governments the world over expanded their schemes to cover rich and poor alike. Not only would they stand to gain in terms of the school system producing better-skilled, more productive and healthier workers, but they would also cut their healthcare costs by reducing malnutrition and obesity.

  • Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect Al-Mujtama’s point of view

Australian Uighurs have condemned Muslim-majority member countries of the UN Human Rights Council for rejecting a debate on allegations of human rights violations against minorities, including Muslims and Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.

Among the 19 members who voted against the debate were Pakistan, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Arslan Hidayat, a resident of Australia and an exiled Uyghur, described it as another “stab in the back” – pinpointing the votes of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both Turkish countries with historical ties to the Uyghur community.

“There are Kazakhs and Uzbeks in the camps themselves,” he told SBS News.

‘We’re screaming, but nobody hears us’

Hidayat says there are “billions of dollars to be obtained” from Chinese investments in Central Asian countries, which is why he believes Muslim countries have voted against the UN debate.

But he blames the governments, not the citizens of the countries, and says he has received private messages from Indonesians and Pakistanis apologizing for their government’s decision.

“Those who voted against us, whether it be the Indonesian government or the Pakistani government, are not part of the Muslim community because if the tables changed, I would think we would defend them,” he said.

Hidayat said Muslims believe in the concept of “ummah”, referring to the global Muslim community as one body.

“Wherever we are, we are all Muslims. We are part of one community,” said Hidayat, Program Manager at Campaign for Uyghurs.

“But they (the countries that voted no) are clearly choosing the dollar, or in this case, the Chinese yuan, for us.

“We are screaming, but no one hears us.”

Why is it important that Muslim countries voted no?

Hidayat says China will use the fact that Muslim-majority countries voted against the resolution to bolster their narrative denying human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“China uses the inertia of Muslim-majority states as proof that Uighurs are not persecuted,” he said.

“Those who propagate for China say that if Uighurs have been persecuted, then how come Muslim-majority states don’t condemn or demand resolutions to human rights atrocities?”

Ramila Chanisheff, president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association, said the “so-called Muslim countries” that voted against the debate “were bought by China”.

“Most of these Muslim countries themselves are ruled by dictators and commit serious human rights violations, hence their support for a country that commits genocide against its own citizens,” he said.

“Uyghurs are protesting in front of the embassies of Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan in the United States asking for answers as to why they turned their backs on their Muslim brothers and sisters.”

China has poured billions into Muslim-majority countries

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), connecting Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar to western China.

Part of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, the CPEC is estimated to have brought at least $ 102 billion in investment to Pakistan.

Chinese investments have flowed into infrastructure and transport sectors, job creation and regions such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which due to terrorist waves, foreign direct investment from Western countries has been limited.

Economic relations between Beijing and Jakarta have also increased in recent years, with Chinese imports from Indonesia up about a third in the first half of 2022 from the previous year.

China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner, and after meeting Xi in early 2022, Indonesian President Joko Widodo described China as a “global strategic partner”.

Human Rights Watch’s Asian Deputy Director Phil Robertson says Indonesia “shamelessly abandoned the Uighurs” and voted “no” to the resolution for political reasons.

‘Shameless abandon’ of the Uyghurs

“They feared that crossing over to the Chinese government could cause serious problems with Beijing at the upcoming G-20 summit in Bali, which President Widodo has given such a high priority,” Robertson told SBS News.

Robertson said the Chinese government is a “resolute, very large and influential force” that uses a mixture of threats and rewards to get what it wants, which, according to him, “is by no means a check on its appalling rights record. “.

Because it is ‘confrontation’ to see Muslim-majority countries vote no

Martijn Boersma, an associate professor of modern slavery and human trafficking at the University of Notre Dame, says economic ties play a role in the geopolitical reasons why some Muslim-majority countries have voted against the debate.

He says the situation is comparable to that of African countries that have received foreign direct investment from China over the past two decades and, as a result, have changed their countries’ recognition of Taiwan as part of China (One China Policy), as Burkina Faso, which was the last to do so.

“They want to make sure foreign direct investment continues to enter the country and continues to enter the economy, and you don’t want to upset China by voting for a particular resolution,” Boersma said.

He says that while it is “confrontational” to see Muslim-majority countries vote against the debate, geopolitical and strategic interests may be more important to those governments than religious elements.

Complaints of human rights violations in the home

Boersma also says some countries may have voted against the debate to mitigate reports of human rights violations within their own countries.

“The UAE and Qatar, which have both been in the news for different types of human rights violations, may fear that if China is on the cutting board for this and is under this type of scrutiny, then similar investigations into these countries. it could be next, “he said.

Human Rights Watch Asia director Elaine Pearson shared the same view, stating that the principles of “non-interference” fit some of the voting countries.

“In addition to economic interests, the reality is that hiding in the principle of” non-interference “is suitable for governments such as Indonesia and Pakistan who also want to avoid international control over serious abuses at home, for example in Papua and Baluchistan”, Pearson wrote in a Twitter thread. 

Muslim organizations in Kerala are protesting against catholic schools in the state where the hijab was banned inside the school campus. Muslim Youth League (MYL), Muslim Students Federation (MSF), and Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) protested on Monday, 26th September 2022, as Providence Girls Higher Secondary School in Kozhikode barred students from wearing headscarves in the institution.

This is the second catholic school in the state to ban hijab on their campus. It is notable that a Kozhikode school run by a congregation called Apostolic Carmel Southern Province had also banned the hijab on the school premises and Muslim organizations protested against the school on 26th August 2022.

A student of Providence Girls Higher Secondary School studying in the 11th standard was instructed by the school authorities that she cannot wear a headscarf as it was not a part of the uniform. The parents of the girl lodged a complaint with the school organization. As the school stayed firm on its rules, the student took a transfer certificate from the school.

MYL issued a statement after this incident. In this statement, it said, “Now, the student has obtained a transfer certificate from that school. It is a violation of her fundamental right. The inaction on the part of the state government in taking action against such institutions cannot be accepted.”

On 26th September 2022, protesting Muslim organizations took to the streets in large numbers and demonstrated outside the school. The police had to use force to disperse the mob. Some of the protesters were also detained.

In another such incident that took place in Kozhikode in August 2022, the parent of a girl aspiring to take admission to the 11th standard filed a complaint with state Education Minister V Sivankutty. In his complaint, the parent alleged that his daughter is being denied permission to wear a hijab at a government-aided school she enrolled in for the 11th standard on 23rd August 2022.

This school is also run by Catholics. A congregation called Apostolic Carmel Southern Province governs the Christian management board of the school. On Friday, 26th August 2022, a number of Muslim organizations, including the Campus Front of India, organized a demonstration, which resulted in a tense situation outside the school. To control the incident, police were called in.

While interacting with the media, the student’s father said, “This is against the religious freedom of an individual as well as the secular fabric of the state. The school uniform is a half skirt and a top with an overcoat. This may even make the female students uncomfortable as there are male teachers too. But we don’t have any objection with adhering to the school uniform, but wanted the permission to wear hijab also.”

He added, “The principal asked my daughter not to wear a hijab. Shawl (dupatta) is also not allowed in the school. I repeatedly asked the principal whether this means hijabs are also not allowed since there is no permission to wear shawls. Finally, the principal categorically said that hijab was not allowed. This is questioning the religious freedom of an individual in a state like Kerala. Hence I have lodged a complaint with the minister.”

According to school principal Silvi, there is no change in the norms of the school. Silvi said, “The things have been explained to them (the father and the daughter). There is an option for the student to get a transfer from the school. In this school, this would be the norm.”

Out of the organisations named above, Campus Front of India is the student wing of the Popular Front of India. Students Islamic Organization is the students’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind. PFI and all its allied organizations were banned by the government of India on 28th September 2022./ opindia 

Delhi BJP MP Parvesh Verma courted controversy on Sunday after he allegedly made inflammatory remarks against a community at an event to protest the killing of a Hindu youth in northeast Delhi.

Manish (19) was stabbed to death in Sundar Nagri earlier this month. Police have arrested all the accused in the case -- Aalam, Bilal, and Faizan -- and have said they killed him over an old rivalry.

In a purported video of the event, which was organized by various Hindu outfits against the killing, Verma could be heard saying, "Wherever you find them, there is only one way to straighten them - total boycott. Do you agree with me?"

The Delhi Police said it is obtaining the details of the event held at Dilshad Garden and added that no permission was taken for organizing it.

"No complaints have been received yet. However, footage related to the speeches made at the event will be examined," a senior police officer said.

No immediate reaction was available from Verma, who is the BJP MP from West Delhi.

Verma could be seen in the purported video seeking an answer from the crowd about the "total boycott" of the community and asking them to raise their hands if they agreed with him.

"We will not buy anything from their shops or pay them any wages. This is the only treatment for them," he can be heard in the video.

Manish's killing was captured on a CCTV camera. In the footage, three youths are seen walking down a lane and accosting him. The footage further shows one of the three grabbings Manish by his collar and slapping him. The other two also join in, and start stabbing Manish with knives./ Outlook India 

As soon as some members of the Islamic Center of Muncie saw the man coming toward them, they knew he was trouble.

He was a big guy with broad shoulders, marching toward their mosque with his head down and his face flushed red from what looked like anger. It was Friday at Muncie Islamic Center in Muncie, Indiana, and the mosque was filling with people who had come for afternoon prayers. As an outsider with a USMC tattoo on his right forearm and a skull tattoo on his left hand, he stood out.

His name was Richard "Mac" McKinney, and he was there not to worship but to destroy, CNN reported. He was a former US Marine who had developed a hatred toward Islam during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. His fury deepened when he returned home to Muncie to see how Muslims had settled into what he called his city, and even sent their children to sit next to his daughter at her elementary school.

Unable to contain his anger, he went to the Islamic center that day in 2009 on what he saw as his final mission. He was going to plant a bomb at the mosque in hopes of killing or wounding hundreds of Muslims. He was on a scouting mission to pick a location to hide his bomb and to gather intelligence that would validate his assumption that Islam was a murderous ideology.

"I told people that Islam was a cancer; and I was the surgeon to cure it," he says.

But when McKinney entered the mosque, he encountered a form of resistance that he had not planned for. Something happened that day that would change him in a way he never expected.

The people whose lives he intended to take would end up saving his life.

McKinney and the mosque's members built 'an impossible bridge' to one another

What happened to McKinney at the mosque is so dramatic that it sounds like something from a movie. And in fact, it is.

McKinney's transformation is the subject of a riveting documentary short called "Stranger at the Gate." The film, which won a special jury prize at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, recounts how McKinney abandoned his plot and ended up converting to Islam and embracing a surprising role at the mosque.

McKinney recently spoke to CNN via video about his unlikely conversion. Wearing a blue "Say No Hate to Hate," T-shirt over his muscular frame and a long white beard that made him look like a buffed Santa Claus, McKinney told his story in a blunt, no-frills manner that underscored his 25 years in the military.

McKinney says he thought his Friday afternoon visit might end with his death.

"By the end of the night, I figured they would have me in the basement with a sword to my throat," he says.

Instead, several mosque members stepped forward and disarmed McKinney with some shrewd choices that may have saved their lives.

The film cites one staggering act of kindness: Mohammad S. Bahrami, a native of Afghanistan and co-founder of the center, ended up hugging McKinney and erupting in tears.

"To this day, it still doesn't make sense to me," McKinney says about the gesture.

Joshua Seftel, the film's director, says he was drawn to McKinney's story in part because of his own experiences facing antisemitism growing up in Schenectady, New York, in the late 1970s and early '80s. Classmates lobbed antisemitic slurs while throwing pennies at him.

Seftel made his film as part of "The Secret Life of Muslims," an online video series. He says McKinney's story gave him hope that even some of the deepest divisions in the US can be transcended.

"They were able to build an impossible bridge to one another," Seftel says of McKinney and members of the Muncie Islamic center. "If that could happen, anything is possible. They gave us a blueprint for how we could all do this."

McKinney was looking for a way to forgive himself for what he did in war

To reveal too many details about how McKinney converted would rob the film of its impact. But there are some scenes and characters that beg to be described.

One was the story of how McKinney was changed by combat. McKinney's struggles after he returned to Muncie in 2006 are a prime example of the adage, "In war there are no unwounded soldiers."

McKinney says he was trained to see the Iraqi and Taliban soldiers he fought not as human beings but as paper targets on a shooting range. He also says he struggled to find a new community after he left what he calls the "band of brothers" he fought alongside during his service. Once he returned home, he drifted into drinking and womanizing to numb his wartime experiences.

Seeing Muslims only caused his pain to resurface. He resented the presence of Muslims in Muncie because it seemed to make a mockery of the sacrifice he and his comrades made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I wasn't willing to share," he says. "I saw America as mine. I bled for this. It was a 'You don't belong here' kind of thing."

Layered in his grief was also guilt over the lives he had taken during combat. He wasn't just at war with Muslims; he was at war with himself.

"He can't completely forgive himself for what he did," says Dana, one of his ex-wives, in the film.

Then he met the 'Mother Teresa' of Muncie's Muslim community

There were plenty of people who helped diffuse McKinney's anger and guilt.

One was Jomo Williams, an African American member at the Islamic center who knew something about anger. His great-great-grandfather was lynched and castrated by a White mob. He carried a hostility toward White people until he converted to Islam.

Williams was one of the first to spot McKinney striding toward the mosque, looking agitated and angry.

"When I saw him, he was walking kind of fast, his head was kind of down, and he was kind of red in the face a little bit," Williams says in the film. "I knew something was wrong."

As viewers can see in the film, Williams later asked McKinney a question that set him on his path to conversion.

But if there is a heroine in "Stranger at the Gate," it's a magnetic woman everyone calls "Sister Bibi."

Bibi Bahrami is a co-founder of the Islamic Center of Muncie and played a pivotal role in McKinney's conversion. Bahrami and her husband, Mohammad, are pillars in the Muncie community. They have six children, several who have gone on to graduate from Ivy League schools and pursue assorted careers. She is a whirlwind, volunteering at a local women's shelter, the YWCA, Muncie Rotary Club and the Interfaith Fellowship while serving on local boards and hosting fundraisers for local politicians.

She embodies the Quranic verse on the Islamic center's website: "The reward for goodness is nothing but goodness."

She, too, knew the damage done by war. Her family in Afghanistan was displaced when the Soviet Union invaded in 1979. She fled her country in tears and lived six years in a refugee camp in Pakistan before marrying and making her way to the US.

Seftel calls her the "Mother Teresa of the Muslim community" in Muncie. She's someone who takes in strangers in need in the community to clean and iron their clothes and feed them meals. Her reputation is such that refugees from other countries somehow find her number and address to track her down for help.

She says she experienced an awakening when she came to the US and became a citizen.

"The freedom of choice is the biggest thing for me," she says about what she likes about the US. "I'm still able to practice my religion, to continue covering (wearing her hijab) and get an education. I was inspired by these opportunities. I truly love this country."

Her service is also part of her worldview. Showing kindness to a stranger is central to the Muslim faith.

"God created all of us to get to know each other and take care of each other -- not to despise," she says.

She reached out to McKinney with a bold invitation

Bahrami's hospitality is remarkable considering many Muslim Americans are still treated like strangers in their own country. Hate crimes against Muslims in the US surged 500% from 2000 to 2009, according to a Brown University study, reflecting an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment after the 9/11 attacks.

Many still face hostility, surveillance and questions over their patriotism.

Some members of the Muncie Islamic center stopped attending the mosque because they were afraid of the burly Marine with the tattoos.

But Bahrami extended her circle of compassion to include McKinney. She invited him to her home and prepared a hearty Afghan dinner of chicken, rice, an eggplant dish and a green yogurt dip seasoned with cilantro and lime juice.

McKinney devoured the meal.

"He tried everything," she says, chuckling. "He was not picky."

The meal became another bridge to McKinney. He kept visiting Bahrami and others at the center. He read the Quran, Islam's holy book. He formed friendships. He told mosque members about his time in combat and they accepted him.

Eight months after McKinney's initial visit to the mosque, he converted to Islam. After the ceremony he was greeted with what he called "a mosh pit of hugs" from the people he once intended to harm. Eventually he even served two years as president of the Islamic Center in Muncie.

When asked how he felt when he was showered with hugs following his conversion ceremony, McKinney broke into a wide, boyish grin:

"I was good with that."

McKinney now has a new mission

Ask him why he converted, and he becomes more talkative. He says the more time he spent with mosque members, the more he discovered how much he had in common with them. He once thought of becoming a preacher when he was a boy, and he discovered that Islam shares some similarities with Christianity.

Islam, Christianity and Judaism, for example, are connected in many ways. Each is a monotheistic religion that traces its origins back to Abraham. Many Muslims, for example, consider Jesus a great prophet born to a virgin mother.

But it was the kindness of the people at the center, and the community they shared with him, that proved most decisive in his conversion, he says.

"They were just happy. They were just plain pleasant," he says. "And I really needed that in my life."

He says that if the people at the center had reacted with hostility that first day, the result probably would have been bloodshed.

Would it be fair to say their kindness saved his life?

"No, no," he says. "It's too little to say."

McKinney says he probably would have attacked the mosque and eventually received the death penalty if not for how he was treated.

Today, McKinney is trying to return the kindness that was extended to him. He earned a bachelor's degree in social work with a minor in peace and conflict resolution and now travels the country to speak about his experiences.

Has he been able to forgive himself now that he's converted? He pauses before answering.

"It's a work in progress," he says in his gravelly baritone. "How about that?"

Yet as a beautiful scene in the film illustrates, others have forgiven him.

It shows McKinney standing beside Williams, the African American man who lost his great-great-grandfather to hate, silently raising their palms together in prayer as a ribbon of golden sunlight streams into the mosque.

That image conveys more than words could say. McKinney is no longer the stranger at the gate.

He's found a new band of brothers and sisters - not in the heat of battle, but in faith.

Two Bangladeshi citizens were shot dead early Sunday allegedly by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in two separate incidents along the border, officials said.

Both the men were shot dead in two separate incidents in the southwestern Satkhira and western Chuadanga border districts of Bangladesh while they allegedly tried to cross the border illegally in order to smuggle goods and cattle, according to the officials.

Border Guard Bangladesh's (BGB) Lt. Col. Faizur Rahman told Anadolu Agency: "We have called flag meetings at the battalion level on Sunday noon to discuss the incident. We will strongly protest the deaths," he added.

The BSF, however, did not confirm or deny the firing when contacted following the incident, he said.

The two South Asian countries share a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) international border, the fifth-longest land border in the world.

In Satkhira, the victim was identified as 25-year-old Abu Hasan. He was shot along the Khaitola border of the district early Sunday morning.

Local media reports Hasan was taken to Satkhira Sadar Hospital when locals found him unconscious. He died on the way to Khulna Medical College Hospital.

The other man was allegedly shot dead by Indian BSF along the western Chuadanga border at around 5 a.m. local time. The BSF also took away the body, according to reports.

Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), a local non-government legal aid and human rights organization, said at least 8 Bangladeshis were shot dead, and seven others were injured by the BSF in the last 8 months this year.

Despite repeated commitments to not using lethal weapons along the border, the BSF was accused of violations.

Odhikar, a local human rights organization in Bangladesh, claimed in its latest report that the Indian forces have killed over 1,200 Bangladeshis along the border over the last two decades.

Both countries, however, in a joint statement earlier this month, said that they "agreed to work towards bringing the number (border killing) down to zero."

During Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in September, New Delhi promised to stop killings along the border.

Hate crimes in the UK are on the rise because the government "tends to try to appease the far right by adopting some of their positions," according to a prominent Muslim scholar.

Anas Altikriti, CEO of Cordoba Foundation, told Anadolu Agency that the British Muslim community has sensed that "there is a tangible rise in far-right and far-right groups that are now in government."

His comments came after the publication of statistics Thursday by the Home Office that showed Islamophobic hate crimes in England and Wales skyrocketed last year with Muslims the most targeted group for the year ending March 2022.

The number of religious hate crimes recorded by police that targeted Muslims was 3,459, a 42% increase since last year.

"The figures that came out today only go to confirm the actual feeling that is quite tangible and quite powerful throughout the Muslim community we have been sensing, and seeing, observing ourselves, the rise in anti-Muslim sentiments and actions as well as the narrative, the overall overriding narrative, whether it be official, whether it be through society -- that the classes Muslims as almost second class citizens on the margins of society that are deserving of being the targets of the overall rise of far-right and nationalist sentiments," said Altikriti, whose group tries to bridge "the gap of understanding between the Muslim World and the West."

"It's something that confirms those kinds of feelings. I think that the actual figures are far greater than what we saw will be it that they do confirm that Muslims are the targets of the, you know, the greatest anti-religious sentiments expressed against any religious minority. The fact is that this is something that we've been warning about for more than a decade now," he said.


Altikriti underlined that "there is a tangible rise in far-right and far-right groups that are now in government, only 15 years ago, were almost banished to the sidelines of societies."

He said: "They were not entities, they didn't really matter in any election or any. But now, less than two decades on, we see that many, throughout Europe and even here in the UK. They have a huge impact on not only government, as we saw in Austria, as we see in Sweden, as we see now in Italy, for instance, but also on the narrative itself, because what happens is that with the rise of far-right sentiments, the sort of mainstream right in our case, for instance, the Conservative government tends to try to appease the far right by adopting some of their positions. So all of a sudden, you have the far-right, albeit, not actually in government, but their positions, their viewpoints, their sentiments, their statements are actually being adopted and espoused by the actual government," he said.


"What these figures go to show is that we are at risk of the sorts of dissemination and the breakup of the very fabric of British society and it's something that we must pay serious attention to. I think that the Conservative government is espousing policies that the Conservatives of 25, 30, 35 years ago would have never even imagined, and particularly the kind of narrative in regards with the immigrants and the minorities and the like," said Altikriti.

"It's something which is absolutely disgraceful in terms. I mean, only two days ago, we heard the Home Secretary no less," referring to Home Secretary Suella Braverman's recent remarks that it was her 'dream' to see planes taking off to carry immigrants to Rwanda," he said. "And as I tweeted, an immigrant daughter of immigrants, who expressed that her dream, no less, her dream - not a goal, not her ambition - her dream was to see a flight take off, carry immigrants off to the other side of the world."

"It's something that is quite shameful to be perfectly honest. I mean, our position, today, we're talking about the figures in regards to the anti-Muslim sentiments but in all, whether it be anti-religious anti-minority sorts of statements whether it be the sorts of nationalist overtures that belittle anyone else it's something that we see every single day," said Altikriti.


Altikriti said far-right examples were in pockets of societies before but they are now "in the corridors of government and that's something which is extremely dangerous."

"This replicates the kind of images we're seeing across Europe. Again, I mean, we take, for instance, Sweden, which only a few years ago was celebrated by the entire world as being one of the most open, one of the most tolerant, one of the most accepting and welcoming countries and societies to minorities from across the world," he said.

"Now, where the far-right is a serious player and influential player in the makeup of the government. We've seen Italy for instance, elect a virtually fascist prime minister. So, what we're seeing in Europe is, unfortunately, being replicated across to the UK and even further beyond. You know, in the past we saw how the tide of Trumpism actually reflected on many of our policies here in Europe."

"And that hasn't gone away. I mean, despite the fact that (Donald) Trump isn't the (US) president, but Trumpism is very, very much present," said Altikriti.

He added: "And I think when we're asked about the reasons for this, I think that it's a cumulative success of failures of governments or governments on economic issues and social issues, on intelligence and the such and the constant usage of in this particular case of Muslims as a viable and acceptable target to explain or to justify these governmental political economic failures.

"So this, with the accumulation, bit by bit, we've arrived at a stage where in the UK we are facing one of the greatest cost of living crises -- that is in living memory since World War II-problem, and we're looking at a recession the likes of which we haven't seen, and with it, is this narrative about, how minorities should shoulder the blame."

"So once again, we're not learning from our mistakes, unfortunately."


"The first thing I would warn against is to ask the victims to solve the problem of the culprits. The abuser in this particular case, you know, someone who's racist, a government, which is Islamophobic -- I mean, what can I do?" said Altikriti.

He said he finds it "extremely difficult to engage in discussions whereby the Muslim community is discussing building fences around the community trying to isolate ourselves -- we'll secure ourselves with CCTV cameras with high fences with bodyguards and as such, that's not what we want as Muslims."

"We are British citizens. We want to be part of Britain or we want Britain to be part of our religious institutions. We want to accept our neighbors into our mosques. We want, you know, to have the discussion about the problems and the challenges that face all of us, whether it be about the cost of living, whether it be about energy bills, whether it be about government budgets, and taxation and all of that. We want -- we are part of all of this and we want to be part of the general discussion. The issue of racism, whether it be Islamophobia, whether it be anti-Semitism, whether it be any other targeting of any other minority religious or otherwise, it's something that we all have to work together in order to solve."


Altikriti said the problem is not only Islamophobia but other religious groups targeted by hate crimes.

"I can't solve only my problem as a Muslim. So, the problem of Islamophobia was for instance -- my Jewish neighbors are being attacked, or my Hindu neighbors are being attacked, or the such or someone is trying to stir up problems such as we're seeing in Leicester and Birmingham and as such, between Hindus and Muslims," he said.

"This is something that we must work all together in order to confront and I'm not saying here about us as minorities, I'm talking about all British people because as we saw with the civil rights movement in America whether it be 30,40, 50 years, 200 years, there will come a time when the culprits when the perpetrator of these discriminatory crimes will have to come to account.

"And we don't want our children to pay the price for the ignorance and arrogance and stupidity of people amongst us today," he said.

While in Gujarat, cops were seen thrashing Muslim men over an alleged attack on a Garba event, in Bengal, three Muslim men risked their lives to save around 30 people from drowning in flash floods.

In the midst of festivities, in the broad daylight of October 4, a crowd of locals in the Kheda district of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gathered to watch a group of Muslim men being tied to a pole and flogged with canes by police personnel.

The men were accused of throwing stones at a Garba event. They were seen begging for mercy as plain-clothes cops continued to thrash them in full public view while the frenzied crowd chanted ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Decades from now, when history will recollect the events from today’s India, the crowd, even the children, relishing and cheering at the people being flogged, would be seen as no less horrifying than the Roman Colosseum which sponsored the shows of death.

The very next day, on the other end of India, three Muslim men risked their lives to save around 30 people from drowning in flash floods during the Durga idol immersion ceremony in West Bengal.

On Vijaya Dashmi, hundreds of people had gathered on the banks of the Mal river near Malbazar town in Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district to participate in the Durga idol immersion ceremony. All of a sudden, at around 8:30 pm, flash floods struck and scores of people were swept away.

The 20-year-old Toriful Islam and his friends were excited about the Dussehra mela. They never miss out on Vijaya Dashmi celebrations and the idol immersion ceremony. With his arm on his best friend’s shoulder, Toriful was standing on his tiptoes to look further when a flood struck the river. Within minutes, the floods wrecked havoc with people being washed away.

Talking to The Wire, Toriful, a class 12 student and the youngest son of a local pan seller, said he “felt terrible and jumped right into the river”.

He dreams of being an academician and being able to study for as long as he can. When asked if the thought of his life bothered him before jumping right into the river, he smiled and said, “See, I only have one life. What I saved was 10 lives. Ten is greater than one. Isn’t it?”

When asked about the crowd cheering at the Muslim men being flogged publicly, he said, “Festivals are for everyone. If I as a Muslim had stood there and looked at Hindus being washed away, it would have been a sin. We are humans. We should become humans before becoming Hindus and Muslims.”

He added, “I would ask those who discriminate: What is the purpose of being a human? It is to help fellow humans. Where would we go if we do bad to others? Hindus and Muslims together make up our beloved Hindustan.”

Toriful told us about his family’s reaction, “My family was very happy and proud. They said that you saved 10 lives. You didn’t run away from a difficult situation. Our parents and teachers always teach us to do good for others.”

When asked if he looks forward to any reward, he promptly replied, “No. No. Even if they give me any reward, any money, I won’t take it. I didn’t do it for money. I did it because I couldn’t see people dying in front of my eyes. And till I am alive, I will keep helping those in need.”

Toriful saved the lives of at least 12 people. His relative, the 22-year-old Foridul Islam, who works as a master mason, also saved around 10 lives.

Another Samaritan who came to the rescue of hundreds of people was Mohammad Manik, a 28-year-old welder, who went to attend the idol immersion ceremony with his friends. He alone rescued around 10 people, including two children and three women.

“I saw people, children as young as my son, being swept away by the flood. I couldn’t just stand there and watch. So I dived in and tried my best to rescue people,” said Manik, the father of a three-year-old boy.

He lives in West Tesimala village, a few kilometres from Malbazar, with his parents, wife and son. He told The Wire, ‘While I was helping those who were clinging to the rocks, I realised that my right big toe was badly hurt and I was bleeding. I borrowed a handkerchief from a firefighter, tied it around my toe and continued my work. Nothing else came to my mind. All I thought was that I have to save as many people as possible.”

At around 11:30 pm, he was taken to the district hospital where he received first aid.

He added, “I don’t see Hindus and Muslims. I only see humans. In Islam, they say that saving the lives of others is a deed of sabab. I did that only. I took Allah’s name and dived in. I had to save people. Both Hindus and Muslims have the same blood in their veins.”

He further said, “I have a message for those who believe that Hindus and Muslims cannot celebrate their festivals together. People of all religions should live together like brothers. In my locality, all the workers live in harmony. There are Hindus, Muslims, Adivasis and people from all castes. All are my brothers. On Eid, they come to our house to enjoy the sewayin and on Diwali, we go to their place and light the diyas.”

He smiled and asked, “Isn’t that the purpose of festivals?”/thewire 

(New York) – The authorities in India are increasingly using summary and abusive punishments against Muslims deemed to have broken the law, Human Rights Watch said today. In several states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the authorities have demolished Muslim homes and properties without legal authorization, and most recently, publicly flogged Muslim men accused of disrupting a Hindu festival.

“The authorities in several Indian states are carrying out violence against Muslims as a kind of summary punishment,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials blatantly disregarding the rule of law are sending a message to the public that Muslims can be discriminated against and attacked.”

On October 4, 2022, in Kheda district, Gujarat state, police arrested 13 people for allegedly throwing stones at a “garba” ceremonial dance during a Hindu festival. A police officer in civilian clothes wearing a gun holster was filmed publicly flogging several Muslim men with sticks while other officials held the men against an electricity pole. In videos shown and even praised on some pro-government television news networks, several uniformed police officers watch the flogging and strike the accused with sticks, while a crowd of men and women cheer and applaud. The police ordered an inquiry only following social media criticism of the video recordings.

On October 2 in Mandsaur district, Madhya Pradesh state, police filed a case of attempted murder and rioting against 19 Muslim men accused of throwing stones at a garba event and detained seven of them. Two days later, without any legal authorization, the authorities demolished the homes of three of the men, claiming they were constructed illegally.

In April, the authorities in Khargone district in Madhya Pradesh state, Anand and Sabarkantha districts in Gujarat state, and Jahangirpuri neighborhood in Delhi responded to communal clashes by summarily demolishing property, most of it owned by Muslims. The clashes occurred after religious processions of armed Hindu men passed through Muslim localities during Hindu festivals. The men shouted anti-Muslim slogans in front of mosques while the police failed to take any action.

The authorities tried to justify the demolitions by claiming the structures were illegal, but their actions and statements indicated that the destruction was intended as collective punishment for Muslims, holding them responsible for the violence during the communal clashes. “Houses that were involved in stone pelting will be turned into rubble,” the BJP home minister in Madhya Pradesh stated.

The authorities razed at least 16 houses and 29 shops in Khargone in Madhya Pradesh. The district collector, a local administrator, said, “Finding out culprits one by one is a time-taking process, so we looked at all the areas where rioting took place and demolished all the illegal constructions to teach rioters a lesson.”

In Khambhat city in Anand district, the authorities reportedly demolished at least 10 shops and 17 warehouses. The district collector said that he had “launched a drive, using bulldozers, to remove the bushes as well as illegal structures standing on government land,” to punish “miscreants” for stoning a religious procession. The authorities also demolished at least six properties in Himmatnagar city in Sabarkantha district in Gujarat.

In Delhi, the authorities used nine bulldozers and demolished at least 25 shops, vending carts, and houses. Before the demolitions, the Delhi BJP president wrote to the BJP-run municipal authority to identify allegedly unlawfully constructed properties of those accused of communal clashes and “run bulldozers over them.”

In June, a BJP politician’s remarks about the Prophet Mohammed led to widespread protests by Muslims across the country. Police in Jharkhand state allegedly used excessive force against protesters, killing two people while the authorities in Uttar Pradesh unlawfully demolished homes of Muslims suspected of being “key conspirators” behind the violence that erupted during the protests.

The authorities carried out the demolitions without any legal authorization or due process, including proper prior notice or an opportunity to be heard even though affected families had been living there for decades and in many cases, possessed the necessary documents to prove this.

In June, three United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indian government expressing concern that “some of these evictions have been carried out as a form of collective and arbitrary punishment against the Muslim minority and low-income communities for alleged participation in inter-communal violence, while authorities reportedly failed to investigate these incidents, including incitement to violence and acts of intimidation that contributed to the outbreak of the violence.”

The summary demolitions of homes and structures of Muslim communities have compounded the vulnerability of women, children, older persons, and people with disabilities who live there, Human Rights Watch said.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party, prohibits discrimination on any ground and obligates states to ensure that everyone is equal before the law and to ensure equal protection of the law. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing. In its General Comment No. 7, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, an independent expert body that monitors compliance with the covenant, noted that house demolition as a punitive measure is contrary to the Covenant.

“Indian authorities are increasingly acting as if summary punishment has become a state policy,” Ganguly said. “If the Indian government does not take immediate action to roll back discriminatory laws, policies, and actions targeting minorities, rule of law will be replaced by bulldozers and sticks.”

Source: HRW

ADEN, Yemen, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Clashes broke out between pro-government Yemeni forces and Houthi rebels in the southern province of Lahj early Friday, leaving 10 killed from both sides, a military official told Xinhua.

"The Houthi rebel group sent scores of its fighters to attack sites controlled by the pro-government southern forces in Lahj, sparking hours of intense clashes in the area," the local military source said on condition of anonymity.

The government forces killed six Houthi attackers and lost four of their soldiers, he added.

Having failed to make military progress on the ground, the Houthis are now forced to retreat from key sites around the Yafea area near the rebel-held province of al-Bayda, according to the source.

The clashes come just days after the failure to extend a six-month truce brokered by the United Nations, as fighting has renewed between the Houthis and the pro-government forces in the southern regions.

Following the intense clashes, the pro-government forces of the Southern Transitional Council dispatched troops to fortify its sites in Yafea and other southern areas near the Houthi-held provinces, the military official told Xinhua.

On Sunday, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg announced that no agreement was reached to renew the expired truce between the Yemeni warring parties.

The six-month humanitarian truce between the Yemeni government and the Houthi militia went into force on April 2 and was later renewed twice through Oct. 2.

Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized control of several northern cities and forced the Saudi-backed Yemeni government out of the capital Sanaa.