MUNICH — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared at an annual gathering of Western diplomats and business leaders to declare Saturday that "the West is winning,'' something that would be obvious to Trump administration critics, he said, if they were only willing to accept "reality."The Trump administration was hardly retreating from the world or its alliances, he insisted at the meeting, the Munich Security Conference, but leading it. The problem is that many American allies are reluctant to follow as the administration confronts Iran and insists on more contributions to collective defense.Pompeo was followed by the secretary of defense, Mark Esper, who described a bleak future if the U.S. and Europe did not work to contain China on all fronts. Countries thinking of letting Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, build next-generation communications networks, he warned, should be prepared to see American intelligence cooperation reduced.His remarks were met with silence by British and German officials, who are looking for ways to avoid offending the Chinese.This year's conference reflected the division and unease that have plagued the alliance in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. The stated theme was "Westlessness,'' a sense that close allies were unmoored and uncompetitive in a world both more diverse and more autocratic.Emmanuel Macron, the French president, arrived to declare that allies were wrongheaded about Russia, and that Europeans needed to deal with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, on their own, not just through the lens of a growing cold war with America.Still, there were fears of coming Russian interference in elections, including in the U.S., despite an upbeat talk from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who was given more time on stage than most of the world leaders.His company — with powers that exceed most of the nations represented in Munich — is now spending more annually on security issues than it generated in revenue in 2012, he told the assemblage of presidents and foreign ministers.Hand-wringing is hardly new for this meeting of Atlantic allies, where Europeans expressed doubts about the depth of American commitment even during the Obama era. But that uncertainty has soared since Trump has hesitated to commit the U.S. to coming to the defense of American allies — he would first measure their contributions to the alliance, he has often said — and has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord and the Iranian nuclear deal.So it was striking that Pompeo felt it necessary to take on those who say the post-World War order is ending, telling the assembled leaders: "I'm here this morning to tell you the facts."Pompeo made the case that governments that "respect basic human rights" and "foster economic prosperity" are magnets for migrants."You don't see the world's vulnerable people risking their lives to skip illegally en masse to countries like Iran or to Cuba.''The Europeans in the room later noted that Pompeo did not mention the new restrictions in the U.S. that drastically limit the number of refugees who can enter the country.Pompeo tried to be upbeat, talking about the joint work the U.S. and Europe were doing to confront Russia. He announced $1 billion to bolster an energy project for Central European countries on the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas, an effort to blunt Russian energy projects like Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.It was left to Esper to lower the boom on European nations so dependent on exports to China that they are trying to find a balance between Washington's demands to shun Chinese technology and Beijing's warnings against being excluded from Europeans markets.Esper argued that the presence of Huawei in commercial networks risked undermining the NATO alliance, dismissing China's argument that it has no capability to use its equipment to intercept messages or shut down networks in times of conflict."The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction — more internal repression, more predatory economic practices, more heavy-handedness, and most concerning for me, a more aggressive military posture," he said. That has become a bipartisan view: His assessment was echoed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later responded, telling the forum that Esper and Pompeo "say the same thing wherever they go about China" and dismissed their remarks as "lies.""The root cause of all these problems and issues is that the U.S. does not want to see the rapid development and rejuvenation of China, and still less would they want to accept the success of a socialist country," Wang said."The most important task for China and the U.S. is to sit down together to have a serious dialogue and find a way for two major countries with different social systems to live in harmony and interact in peace," he added. "China's ready, and we hope the U.S. will work with us."Esper later told reporters that he was cautiously optimistic about a seven-day "reduction in violence" in Afghanistan that could lead to a peace accord with the Taliban, saying that "we are going to suspend a significant part of our operations" in the country when the Taliban fulfill their part. But while U.S. forces could come down to 8,600, from about 13,000, he said there was not yet an agreed-upon timeline for further reductions.Many eyes were also on Macron, whose relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have been somewhat rocky. Macron made a plea for better European integration and more unity in defining European interests, urging the Germans to help develop "a European security culture" and not to see every security issue "through American eyes.''On Russia, he said: "We need a European policy, not just a trans-Atlantic policy.''He insisted that he was not frustrated with the apparent paralysis of the current German government, but conceded that he is "impatient.''France and Germany "need to take risks together,'' he said. "That means our relationship has to change and adapt.''He argued that the Europeans needed to define their own interests to preserve their sovereignty in a world dominated by an increasingly nationalist U.S. and an ambitious Russia. But he insisted that a stronger European defense pillar would complement NATO, not weaken or replace it, as Washington and some European countries closer to Russia, like Poland and the Baltic nations, fear is his intention.Macron also tried to explain his outreach to Moscow, viewing it as a difficult neighbor but one that Europe cannot ignore. The current policy of harsh economic sanctions, in place since the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, has not changed Russian behavior, he argued. The sanctions "have changed absolutely nothing in Russia — I am not proposing at all to lift them, I am just stating this," he added."We need in the long term to reengage with Russia but also emphasize its responsibility in its role" as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, he said. "It cannot constantly be a member that blocks advances by this council."There is "a second choice,'' Macron argued, "which is to be demanding and restart a strategic dialogue because today we talk less and less, conflicts multiply and we aren't able to resolve them."He said that he expected Russia will continue playing a destabilizing role in matters such as other countries' election campaigns, either directly or indirectly."I don't believe in miracles — I believe in politics, in the fact that human will can change things when we give ourselves the means," Macron said.Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was Merkel's hand-picked successor as leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, threw Germany into political uncertainty this past week when said she would not seek the chancellorship when the country votes next year. Her decision has raised concerns that Germany will again be occupied with domestic affairs at a time when it is needed as a leader in Europe and on the international stage.Still defense minister, Kramp-Karrenbauer appeared here and admitted that her country had not fully delivered on a promise made at the conference in 2014 to become more engaged in, and spend more on, security and defense."From the Munich 'consensus of words' must come a 'consensus of action,'" she said. "The impact of German and European security and defense policy must be larger, our international actions must be better coordinated and more visible."But Kramp-Karrenbauer insisted that Germany would not join an American "maximum pressure" mission aimed at Iran in the Gulf of Hormuz. Instead, Germany would seek to coordinate "a mission dedicated to free and secure navigation" with its European partners.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
It Was Already Dangerous To Be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus
The Islamophobic hashtags began circulating shortly after the news broke in late March.
Indian authorities had linked dozens of cases of COVID-19 to a Muslim missionary group that held its annual conference in Delhi in early March, and health officials were racing to track down anyone who had contact with the participants. Coronavirus fears and religious tension were already at a fever pitch in India, and it didn’t take long for the two forces to intermingle. Videos falsely claiming to show members of the missionary group spitting on police and others quickly went viral on social media, exacerbating an already dangerous atmosphere for Muslims. “Islamophobia has been transposed onto the coronavirus issue,” says Amir Ali, an assistant professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Since March 28, tweets with the hashtag #CoronaJihad have appeared nearly 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter, according to data shared with TIME by Equality Labs, a digital human rights group. Equality Labs activists say that many of the posts are in clear violation of Twitter’s rules on hate speech and coronavirus, but have yet to be taken down. “We are committed to protect and serve the public conversation as we navigate this unprecedented global public healthcare crisis,” reads a statement Twitter provided to TIME. “We continue to remain vigilant.”
Coming just weeks after religious pogroms conducted by Hindu nationalists left 36 Muslims dead in Delhi, the surge in hateful tweets demonstrates how anxieties over the coronavirus have merged with longstanding Islamophobia in India, at a time when the Muslim minority — 200 million people in a nation of 1.3 billion — feels increasingly targeted by the ruling Hindu nationalists. “One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic,” says Arjun Appadurai, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University who studies Indian politics. “So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”
One of the most popular false #CoronaJihad tweets claims to show a Muslim man from the Delhi congregation intentionally coughing on somebody. The tweet referred to Muslims as “such vile minded people” and listed hashtags including #CoronaJihad and #TablighiJamatVirus, a reference to the religious group that met in Delhi. But the video featured in the viral tweet was actually filmed in Thailand, not India, and there is no proof that the man was a member of the Delhi congregation. Nevertheless, the tweet was still online as of April 3, with more than 4,200 retweets and 503 replies. Another video shared on both Facebook and Twitter purporting to show Muslims intentionally sneezing on each other was debunked by the fact-checking organization AltNews.
Another tweet, which had around 2,000 retweets before it was removed for violating Twitter’s rules, featured a cartoon of a caricatured Muslim man labeled “Corona Jihad” trying to push a Hindu off a cliff. “Corona jihad is this new idea that Muslims are weaponizing the coronavirus to target Hindus,” says Thenmozhi Soundarajan, executive director of Equality Labs. The tweet has since been removed for violating Twitter’s rules, but several other cartoons linking Muslims to the coronavirus, shared by the same account with more than 15,000 followers, were still online as of April 3.
In India, where the politically dominant Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increasingly launched dogwhistle attacks on Muslims since being reelected with a massive majority in April last year, the coronavirus is just “one more opportunity to cast the Muslim as the other, as dangerous,” says Ali, the professor.
“People are talking about ‘bio jihad’ and ‘corona jihad,’” Ali says. “These are just the latest in a series of different forms of ‘jihad’ that the media has talked about, that have been spread on social media, and that people are gleefully accepting.” Population jihad, for example, is a common trope in Hindu nationalist messaging, claiming that Muslims are trying to turn India into a Muslim nation by reproducing at a faster rate than Hindus. Love jihad is the idea that Muslim men are tricking Hindu women into romantic relationships in order to convert them to Islam. “Corona jihad is the most outrageous one so far, because people are really being infected and dying,” Ali says.
Social media companies have struggled with hate speech for years, embroiling the platforms in a difficult tangle in which freedom of speech runs up against the companies’ responsibility to protect minorities. In the world’s first social media pandemic, hate speech related to the virus is spreading online almost as fast as the virus itself. But recent history demonstrates that inaction on the platforms’ part can allow hate speech to turn into violence. Myanmar’s 2017 genocide perpetrated by Buddhist nationalists against Rohingya Muslims was preceded by a campaign of dehumanizing hate speech on Facebook. Equality Labs’ Soundarajan says social media companies cannot feign ignorance on the issue because her group and others are flagging troublesome content. “They’re aware of it,” says Soundarajan. “Whether they allow it to go viral is now their own responsibility.” (Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TIME.)
Although this pandemic is uncharted territory when it comes to predicting the impact of virus-related hate speech, public health officials have warned against stigmatizing minority groups. Because COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, some — including the U.S. President — have called it the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” a name that appears to be linked to an uptick in global violence against Asians. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the then-unnamed coronavirus would henceforth be known officially as COVID-19 — a name which purposely did not include a reference to China. “Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.
Some are working to prevent fears over the virus from becoming entangled with religious divisions. Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, is calling on governments to push back “aggressively” against the rising incidents of “blaming of religious minorities for the COVID virus,” including the rise in usage of #CoronaJihad and other hashtags trending in India. “The governments really should put this down, and say very clearly that this is not the source of the Coronavirus,” he said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “We know where this virus originated. We know it’s a pandemic the whole world is being subjected to. It’s not something from religious minorities. But unfortunately we are seeing that sort of blame game getting started up in different places around the world.”
In India, activists fear the stigmatization of Muslims could exacerbate the coronavirus crisis. “Launching a witch hunt against the attendees of the Nizamuddin congregation will be counterproductive from the public health point of view,” said several Indian intellectuals in an open letter published Thursday, referring to the area of Delhi where the conference was held. “The attendees should be identified without criminalizing them and put into quarantine as per norms.” The virus, they said, does not care about religious or national differences. “The solution will not come through the pursuit of divisive agendas but through scientific endeavors and human solidarity.”
A final irony of the Tablighi Jamaat controversy — which escalated on April 3 when the Indian government announced some members of the group would be charged under India’s National Security Act for violating quarantine — is that it was just one of myriad religious groups that continued to meet after India unexpectedly announced its coronavirus lockdown, yet it has drawn the vast majority of attention.
“They are no different from any other people in India and around the world who have pushed the envelope in terms of good sense,” Appadurai says of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation. “But of course, India is a very dangerous place for Muslims even apart from the coronavirus. It was asking for just the kind of thing that has now happened.”
— WITH REPORTING BY KIM DOZIER/WASHINGTON
Europe Makes Tentative Gains in Containing Coronavirus Spread
(Bloomberg) — New coronavirus infections slowed in Spain and decreased marginally for the second day in Italy, while intensive-care admissions declined in France, tentative signs that the pandemic may be easing in Europe.Austria could become one of the first countries in the region to loosen restrictions that have shut down much of public life. Over the weekend, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government will review data and consider a plan to gradually restart the economy, the Austrian leader told parliament in Vienna on Friday.“Let’s not jump to conclusions because there are some positive signals,” Kurz told lawmakers. “I can promise you, if the numbers support it, we’ll do what we can to return to normality step by step.”Spain — the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe alongside Italy — reported that new fatalities from the virus declined on Friday for the first time in four days.In another positive development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — Europe’s longest-serving leader — left her precautionary quarantine.Despite pockets of improvement, death tolls in Italy, Spain, France and Germany surpassed 31,000, giving governments little leeway to unwind lockdown measures. The four countries account for almost 60% of global fatalities and more than a third of the world’s 1 million confirmed cases.After ending 12 days in voluntary self-isolation in Berlin, Merkel will continue to observe social-distancing standards, government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.The chancellor, who this week prolonged a nationwide lockdown until April 19, addressed the public Friday from the chancellery in Berlin for the first time since the quarantine, making a plea to stay home and avoid social contact through the Easter holiday.Even though a slight slowing of the spread of the disease offers “some hope,” she said it was far too early to set a target date for easing restrictions.Europe’s longest-serving leader took center stage in Germany’s fight against the virus with a rare televised address to the nation on March 18, in which she called the pandemic the country’s gravest challenge since World War II.Merkel’s brush with the virus parallels that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been working from self-isolation at home since March 12 after his wife contracted the illness. European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde also isolated herself temporarily last month following exposure to an infected person. And U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been quarantined for over a week after testing positive for the virus.Lockdown ReviewKurz, who wore a face mask before and after his speech, urged Austrians to persevere with measures to limit contact between people and asked them to refrain from celebrating the Easter holiday with large gatherings of families and friends. His government will review virus statistics with epidemiology experts on Sunday and present its plans on Monday.Growth in new infections in Austria have decreased to less than 5% per day. The number of daily fatalities has fallen for four straight days this week.Spain’s Health Ministry on Friday reported 932 new deaths and 7,472 cases over the latest 24-hour period, both smaller gains than the previous day. The dip in the daily figures could lead to less pressure on overwhelmed hospitals. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government is looking to extend the current lockdown for another two weeks beyond April 11, Spanish media reported.Italy reported 4,585 new infections, while there were 766 fatalities compared with 760 in the previous 24-hour period, civil protection authorities said at their daily news conference in Rome.The pace of both new deaths and new infections has flattened out over past days, even as the containment measures shuttering all non-essential activities and banning most movement take a heavy toll on the economy. In total, the country had 119,827 cases and 14,681 deaths.In efforts to address the economic fallout of the crisis, Germany is planning to set up an extra 300 billion-euro ($324 billlion) aid program to help small- and medium-sized companies, and Switzerland doubled the amount of state credit guarantees for businesses to 40 billion francs ($41 billion).Despite Merkel returning to work, Germany’s fight against the outbreak suffered a setback. Fatalities and confirmed cases rose by more than the previous day on Friday, with total deaths climbing past 1,000. The mortality rate is probably underestimated because of insufficient testing, according to Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute.The country — which has 84,794 infections, the third-most in Europe — may still need additional intensive-care space, even after boosting capacity by more than 40% since the crisis began, the head of Germany’s public health authority said.“My personal appraisal is that it will not be enough,” Wieler said at a press briefing. “I would be happy to be wrong.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Mosques Stay Open in Pakistan Even as Coronavirus Death Toll Rises
(ISLAMABAD) — Mosques were allowed to remain open in Pakistan on Friday, when Muslims gather for weekly prayers, even as the coronavirus pandemic spread and much of the country had shut down.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is relying on restricting the size of congregations attending mosques and advice to stay at home from religious groups like the country’s Islamic Ideology Council.
However, some provinces have issued their own lockdown orders to prevent Muslims from gathering for Friday prayers. In southern Sindh province, a complete lockdown is being enforced from noon until 3 p.m., the time when the faithful gather for prayers. Anyone found on the streets will be arrested, according to the provincial local government minister in a statement.
In eastern Punjab province, where 60% of Pakistan’s 220 million people live, checkpoints have been set up in major cities stopping people from congregating.
Still, mosques remain open in Pakistan, even as they have been shut down across much of the Middle East and elsewhere. The Middle East has confirmed over 85,000 cases of the virus and over 3,700 deaths, most of them in Iran.
Iran state TV reported Friday the virus killed another 134 people, pushing the country’s death toll to nearly 3,300 amid more than 53,000 confirmed cases. Iran’s parliament speaker is among those who have contracted the disease.
Pakistan, with 2,450 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, has been sharply criticized for moving too slow to curb large gatherings, including a gathering of tens of thousands of Muslims from several Islamic countries in March. The gathering of Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries is blamed for several outbreaks of the new virus elsewhere in the world. The first confirmed cases that emerged in Gaza were traced to the gathering.
Entire neighborhoods, including outside the capital Islamabad, have been shut down because clerics who had attended the gathering tested positive for the virus.
Despite this, some religious leaders in Pakistan still urge the faithful to defy restrictions and gather at mosques.
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, head of a committee tasked with spotting the new moon in Pakistan marking the beginning of holy months such as Ramadan, went on television telling people their faith would protect them and they should attend the mosque.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia that can be fatal.
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