Misinformation about the war between Israel and Hamas is rife on social media. But what stands out in this online chaos is that a lot of the accounts pushing these false narratives are primarily from India.
A video shows a man being carried on a stretcher, his body covered by a white blanket. All of a sudden, sirens start wailing and the men carrying the stretcher flee.
After a few moments, the man escapes from the body bag and runs away.
“Watch how Islamists build narratives. A dead boy suddenly comes alive! As sirens start blaring, the fake dead body also gets up and starts running,” tweeted one X user.
Other Indian accounts falsely claimed Gazans are faking injuries and death in order to garner sympathy from the West.
This video as well as the caption has been shared thousands of times on social media by Indian accounts.
But by doing a reverse image search, we can trace the clip back to an Arabic news channel. The original video was posted in 2020 and was allegedly filmed in Jordan.
According to BOOM, an Indian fact-checking site, several Indian X users have been found leading this anti-Palestine propaganda campaign.
These so-called ‘disinfluencers’, or influencers who share disinformation, have primarily attacked Palestinians online while declaring their support for Israel.
Tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India
But the big question is: why would these Indian accounts even spread disinformation?
“We’re getting to electoral season in India. There are going to be national elections next year with some local elections coming up,” explained Nicolas Blarel, an expert on Indian politics and associate professor of International relations at Leiden University.
“This is clearly weaponised to mobilise. There are tensions in India between Hindus and Muslims that often rise when we’re getting close to elections.”
A report by Logically Facts, an organisation that specialises in monitoring misinformation, also explains that this disinformation campaign comes in the run-up to the Indian elections, which will take place in the spring of 2024.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BPJ) came to power in 2014.
Regularly accused of stigmatising Muslims, the BJP is staunchly opposed to its pro-Palestine counterpart, the Congress.
According to a report published in September by Hindutva Watch, a Washington-based group monitoring attacks on minorities, 255 documented incidents of hate speech incidents targeting Muslims were recorded in the first half of 2023.
Overwhelmingly, 80% of these events occurred in BJP-ruled states and union territories.
Moreover, Nicolas Blarel has noticed that India has grown more fascinated with Israel over the past decades.
“Supporters of the BJP consider they face similar threats as Israel when it comes to terrorism,” he said.
The country has been subject to attacks by what it says are state-supported armed groups in Pakistan.
Both have fought a series of wars since 1947, largely over the Kashmir region, which both countries claim.
While other platforms such as Meta have been rethinking how to counter hate speech and disinformation, X (former Twitter) has been lagging behind.
Last month, the European Union launched an investigation into X to determine if the platform failed to comply with new EU rules by letting graphic illegal content and disinformation linked to Hamas’ attack on Israel run rampant.
If found guilty, X could face fines of up to 6% of its global revenue.
Taliban’s abusive education policies harm boys as well as girls in Afghanistan, rights group says
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban’s “abusive” educational policies are harming boys as well as girls in Afghanistan, according to a Human Rights Watch report published Wednesday.
The Taliban have been globally condemned for banning girls and women from secondary school and university, but the rights group says there has been less attention to the deep harm inflicted on boys’ education.
The departure of qualified teachers including women, regressive curriculum changes and the increase in corporal punishment have led to greater fear of going to school and falling attendance.
Because the Taliban have dismissed all female teachers from boys’ schools, many boys are taught by unqualified people or sit in classrooms with no teachers at all.
Boys and parents told the rights group about a spike in the use of corporal punishment, including officials beating boys before the whole school for haircut or clothing infractions or for having a mobile phone. The group interviewed 22 boys along with five parents in Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Bamiyan and other communities in eight provinces.
The Taliban have eliminated subjects like art, sports, English and civic education.
“The Taliban are causing irreversible damage to the Afghan education system for boys as well as girls,” said Sahar Fetrat, who wrote the report. “By harming the whole school system in the country, they risk creating a lost generation deprived of a quality education.”
Students told Human Rights Watch that there are hours during the school day when there are no lessons because there is a lack of replacement teachers. So they said they do nothing.
Taliban government spokesmen were not available for comment on the report. The Taliban are prioritizing Islamic knowledge over basic literacy and numeracy with their shift toward madrassas, or religious schools.
The Taliban have barred women from most areas of public life and work and stopped girls from going to school beyond the sixth grade as part of harsh measures they imposed after taking power in 2021.
According to the U.N. children’s agency, more than 1 million girls are affected by the ban, though it estimates 5 million were out of school before the Taliban takeover due to a lack of facilities and other reasons.
The ban remains the Taliban’s biggest obstacle to gaining recognition as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. But they have defied the backlash and gone further, excluding women and girls from higher education, public spaces like parks and most jobs.
The new report suggests that concerned governments and U.N. agencies should urge the Taliban to end their discriminatory ban on girls’ and women’s education and to stop violating boys’ rights to safe and quality education. That includes by rehiring all women teachers, reforming the curriculum in line with international human rights standards and ending corporal punishment.
“The Taliban’s impact on the education system is harming children today and will haunt Afghanistan’s future,” Fetrat said. “An immediate and effective international response is desperately needed to address Afghanistan’s education crisis.”
US says Russia rejected proposal for release of Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich
The U.S. on Tuesday said Russia rejected a new and a “significant” proposal that would have freed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan.
“This was a new proposal in recent weeks. It was a significant proposal,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press conference. “And it was rejected by the Russians, but it does not, it will not deter us from continuing to do everything we can to try and bring both of them home.”
He added that the two American citizens should never have been arrested “in the first place,” calling on the Russian government to immediately release them.
“They never should have been arrested in the first place. They should be released immediately,” Miller said. “But we have made a number of proposals, including a substantial one in recent weeks and we will continue to work every day to bring Evan and Paul Whelan home. There is no prior higher priority for the Secretary of State. There is no higher priority for the president.”
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While the State Department declined to provide details of the proposal to free Gershkovich and Whelan, the proposal is confirmation that Washington is continuing to secure the release of the two American citizens.
The U.S. government has declared both Whelan and Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained.
Whelan was arrested in December 2018 on charges of espionage and spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 16 years.
He and the U.S. have denied the charges as the 53-year-old remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia republic.
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Whelan was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service while staying in a hotel in the Moscow area.
At the time, he had reportedly arrived in the Russian capital to attend a friend’s wedding and act as a travel guide for the groom’s family. However, Russian officials claimed that Whelan had met with an unnamed Russian citizen who gave the former Marine a USB drive containing classified material.
Gershkovich was detained on March 29 of this year during a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the fourth-largest city in Russia, and accused of being a spy.
The U.S. has asserted that Russia’s allegations against the 32-year-old are ridiculous.
Coworkers and loved ones have described the American-born son of Soviet immigrants as a diligent reporter who is being used as a political pawn due to his high profile.
‘Huge risk’ of terrorist attack across EU: Bloc’s home affairs chief
The European Union is facing a “huge risk” of terrorist attacks over the Christmas period, the bloc’s home affairs chief warned on Tuesday.
“With the war between Israel and Hamas and the polarisation it causes in our society, with the upcoming holiday season, there is a huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union,” Ylva Johansson said ahead of a meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Brussels.
Johansson’s assessment is based on the steep increase in extremist propaganda circulating online as well as the rising threat level in member states amid recent attacks in Belgium and France.
Defining the terrorist threat level is a competency of individual member states, with the scale and level definitions differing between EU countries.
Johansson pledged to make an additional €30 million available to support EU member states to protect places of worship and other public spaces as part of the so-called Internal Security Fund.
She also called on all countries to implement EU measures to crack down on online hate speech and stifle the financial resources used by extremist groups.
Spain’s home affairs minister Fernando Grande Marlaska, whose government holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, said that “in an especially delicate international context, the situation in the Middle East could sharpen tensions, heighten polarisation and fuel terrorism.”
“Clearly, we can’t nor should permit this,” he explained, adding that cooperation between EU member states is critical to tackle the threat.
The warning came days after a radical Islamist known to authorities fatally stabbed a German-Filipino tourist and injured two other people with a hammer near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, heightening EU vigilance and concerns over impending attacks.
The suspect, identified as Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab, had sworn allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in a social media video.
“The war in Gaza and Hamas’ terror is exacerbating this situation. The risk of further emotionalization and radicalization of violent Islamist perpetrators is high,” Faeser told reporters in Brussels.
“Our security authorities are working very closely together,” she added. “Right now we have to keep a particularly close eye on the Islamist threats and work together with neighbouring countries against Islamist propaganda.”
In 2016 and 2018, Berlin and Strasbourg’s Christmas markets became the scenes of deadly terrorist attacks.
German authorities arrested a 15-year-old boy and his alleged accomplice last Thursday on suspicion of planning a militant Islamist state-style attack on a Christmas market. Police forces in several EU countries are upping security around such market sites this year.
The protracted conflict in the Middle East is also deepening fears that violence could permeate into Europe.
Places of worship, including synagogues and mosques, have also been on high alert since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in early October, amid fears of reprisals among both Jewish and Muslim communities. EU countries including France have heightened police presence around such sites.
A French teacher was stabbed to death in the northeast town of Arras by a former student with a record of Islamic radicalisation on October 13th, just six days after the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on October 7th, when Hamas militants embarked on a deadly rampage in southern Israel, leaving some 1,200 civilians dead.
Days later, an assailant claiming to be inspired by the Islamic State fatally shot two Swedish nationals in Brussels. The perpetrator, a Tunisian national, had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Belgium but the Belgian authorities had not been able to follow up on his deportation order.
Johansson, a Swede, said in response to the attack that the bloc had to step up efforts to ensure irregular migrants that pose a “security risk” are swiftly returned to countries of transit or origin.
Islamist terrorism remains the biggest terror threat in Western Europe and “lone actors are expected to continue to perpetrate most of the terrorist attacks in the EU”, Europol’s spokesperson, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told Euronews in September
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