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Biden condemns Islamophobia amid Gaza war, rights group urges US policy change

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Friday condemned what he termed an ugly resurgence of Islamophobia since the Oct. 7 start of the Israel-Gaza war but a leading Muslim advocacy group dismissed his comment and urged a change in U.S. policy instead.

Biden issued his statement on the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, established in 2022 by the United Nations on March 15, the anniversary of the 2019 Christchuch, New Zealand, mosque shootings in which 51 people were killed during Friday prayers.

WHY IT IS IMPORTANT

Human rights advocates have cited a rise in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian bias and antisemitism in the U.S. and elsewhere.

U.S. incidents that raised alarm include the fatal October stabbing of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al-Fayoume in Illinois, the November shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont, and the February stabbing of a Palestinian American man in Texas.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group says it received 3,578 complaints during the last three months of 2023, a 178% rise from complaints about anti-Muslim incidents in the same period from a year earlier.

KEY QUOTES

"We recognize the violence and hate that Muslims worldwide too often face because of their religious beliefs - and the ugly resurgence of Islamophobia in the wake of the devastating war in Gaza," Biden said in a statement.

"Islamophobia has no place in our nation. Yet Muslims in the United States frequently endure baseless fearmongering, blatant discrimination, harassment, and violence in the course of their everyday lives," Biden said.

REACTION

The Council on American-Islamic Relations dismissed Biden's statement and accused the White House of contributing to the problem by neglecting calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and by giving unconditional support to Israel.

"The White House cannot condemn violence against a Palestinian Muslim child here in America while simultaneously enabling the mass murder of Palestinian Muslim children in Gaza, nor can the White House call the destruction in Gaza 'devastating' while at the same time sending weapons to those causing the devastation," the advocacy group said.

CONTEXT

Rights groups have compared the resurgence of Islamophobia since Oct. 7 to the stigma faced by Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Palestinian Islamist Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, Israel says. The health ministry in Hamas-governed Gaza says more than 31,000 people have been killed in the subsequent Israeli offensive that has displaced nearly the entire 2.3 million population in the coastal enclave and caused a starvation crisis.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)