COVID-19 is increasing religious tolerance. Here’s why


One year into the pandemic, protective face masks have come to signify different things for different groups of people.

To some it’s an issue of protest, while for some others it’s a statement of social responsibility. Some people have even turned it into a style statement and are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on designer masks.

At the same time, racialized perceptions related to masks have put an additional burden on groups that already experience racism and inequality. Across the country, several Black American men have been arrested, followed and challenged by police officers who claimed they looked “suspicious” in pandemic masks.

But in a group I have studied since 2013—Muslim women in the West who wear the niqab, or the Islamic veil, along with a headscarf, the experiences have been more positive.

CHALLENGES FACED BY MANY MUSLIM WOMEN

The niqab is worn by a small minority of Muslim women. It is a piece of cloth tied over the headscarf (hijab) that comes in a variety of styles and colors. It is sometimes mistakenly labeled as the burqa, which is an all-enveloping garment that largely entered the American imagination during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. At that time the Western media, while depicting burqa-clad women, wrote about how the war would help advance the rights of Afghan women.

Niqab wearers are a difficult group to study, and scholars have described them as a “rare and elusive religious subculture.” Despite this challenge, I have been able to conduct three research projects that relied on interviews with women who wear the niqab.

Initially, I conducted a larger study of 40 women that I published in my book Wearing the Niqab: Muslim Women in the U.K. and the U.S. I also interviewed a group of 11 women in April 2020 after mask wearing became mandated in public in many U.S. states and countries. In January, I was able to reach 16 women who agreed to be interviewed about their experiences of wearing the niqab one year into the pandemic.

I found that many recently adopted the niqab because walking around with a covered face became less daunting as more people appeared in public with face masks. As I found, many wanted to wear the niqab to underscore the religious character of this practice.

Some women wore a mask under the niqab, mindful of the health guidance that requires masks to be constructed out of a “tightly woven fabric,” in order to stop the virus from being spread. Others used thick, snugly attached niqabs in lieu of a mask.

Studies have shown that Muslim women are more likely to experience prejudice in public spaces, employment, and other services, when they dress religiously. Over 80% of the women I interviewed for my book said they experienced some form of abuse in public, such as hostile stares, comments, having the niqab ripped off, or being physically injured.

Legislation that bans religious face coverings in public has been passed in some countries and territories, such as France and Quebec. On March 7, Swiss citizens will be voting on a niqab ban in a nationwide referendum. In the past, advocates of such laws have argued that face-covering is a sign of religious extremism, social separation, and patriarchal oppression of Muslim women.

However, during the pandemic, criticism has been leveled by scholars and activists at governments that upheld such legislation while simultaneously requiring their citizens to wear masks.

In France, for example, one is liable to pay $165 (or 135 euros) if caught in public without a mask, while wearing a niqab still carries a risk of being fined up to $180.

During my interviews in April with 11 niqab-wearing women in the United States and Europe about their experiences of face covering during the early phase of the pandemic, I found their responses to be guardedly positive. Women reported decreased levels of the kinds of prejudice they experienced before the pandemic. They attributed this to the new social expectation that everyone was wearing a facial covering. Many enjoyed the sense of “invisibility” while wearing the niqab.

A woman from Illinois who I spoke with over Zoom (names of the respondents are withheld to preserve their anonymity) said: “There are so few of us, and still we were told we were a threat to society because we covered our faces. Now that argument has just disappeared. I just hope this sentiment doesn’t make a comeback once the pandemic is over.”

FREE TO DRESS RELIGIOUSLY

Almost a year later, I went back to find out whether the “mask effect” held steady for these women. I spoke with 16 women who said that the niqab had become a much more accepted option among the pandemic masks. I found that many women were switching from wearing it only occasionally outside their homes to every time they were in public spaces. Some actually adopted this garment for the first time in their lives.

Muslim women report feeling less visible when wearing a niqab in public spaces. [Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images]

In an online poll that I ran with the help of the owner of the online Islamic fashion boutique Qibtiyyah Exclusive UK as part of my 2021 study, 14 women out of 51 who responded said that they had decided to begin wearing the niqab during the pandemic.

One anonymous respondent commented, “I feel this is the perfect opportunity for any Muslimah [Muslim woman] to start wearing the niqab. I would if I didn’t already.” Another wrote: “It’s been a flawless transition [to wearing the niqab]. No one says a word.” Another stated, “I’d been experimenting with the niqab before, but now, since COVID, I have worn the niqab full time.”

The niqab is not mentioned by the Quran—which mandates only modest clothing for both men and women more generally. The Quran (24:31) says: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to reveal their adornments except what normally appears. Let them draw their veils over their chests, and not reveal their hidden adornments …”

AN INDIVIDUAL PRACTICE

There is a common misconception in the West that this is an oppressive, patriarchal practice forced upon Muslim women. In reality, several studies have shown that many women choose to wear the niqab—sometimes against their families’ preferences.

The 40 niqab wearers I interviewed for my book considered it a religious practice. Many of them said that the wives of Prophet Muhammad reportedly wore it regularly. A woman from Texas said, “I wear the niqab because I choose to follow what I believe to be the most accurate interpretation of God’s word that says women who cover their faces will be rewarded for fulfilling this extra duty.”

It is a highly individual practice to which the women I interviewed came after a long reflection. They acknowledged that while the niqab may be suitable for them, it might not work for others. A woman from the U.K. explained why some women choose to wear it while others don’t: “The Quran says to cover yourself modestly. Now, the interpretation of that is different to every group of Muslims. Some people believe it just to be the loose dress. Others believe it to be an outer garment as well as headscarf. Yet others would go one step further and say it’s the face covering as well, because [the Quran] says to cover yourself.”

Women who adopted the niqab after the beginning of the pandemic also described their experiences to me. Following years of doubt about the safety of wearing the niqab in their neighborhoods, they felt this was the best time to try.

A woman from Pennsylvania who began wearing the niqab in late 2020 sent me a message: “I wanted to wear the niqab for a long time, but I live in a very white area. I was afraid—I don’t like to be stared at and I already get enough of that in my hijab. With everyone wearing a mask, I figured now’s the time. At first, I wanted to only test it out, but literally nobody looked at me twice. So I’m just wearing it, with a mask underneath.”


Anna Piela is a visiting scholar in religious studies and gender at Northwestern University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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Warnings of increasing energy prices, unreliability as renewables flood market


Warnings of increasing energy prices, unreliability as renewables flood market

Australia’s Energy Security Board has warned energy prices may begin to rise and supply grow increasingly unreliable unless the nation’s grid undergoes urgent reform.

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Thank you for checking this story on the latest VIC news items called “Warnings of increasing energy prices, unreliability as renewables flood market”. This news update was presented by My Local Pages as part of our local and national news services.

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Federal Budget hole to hit $442b, but report suggests increasing spending on welfare, GST relief and income tax cuts


The coronavirus crisis will punch a $442 billion hole in the federal budget, an economic forecaster suggests while calling on the Federal Government to carry deficits in order to boost welfare, reduce the rate of the goods and services tax and lower personal taxes.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will release the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) later this week, which is expected to show a better bottom line.

In the October budget, Mr Frydenberg revealed a record estimated deficit for this financial year of $214 billion, which was predicted to drop in time but remain at $66.9 billion by 2023-24.

But the pace of the recovery over recent weeks, including a higher-than-expected 3.3 per cent rebound in GDP over the three months to September, surprised many economists.

Deloitte Access Economics’ latest budget monitor suggests MYEFO will show lower spending due to savings on the JobKeeper wage subsidy and other measures.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will release the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) later this week, which is expected to show a better budget bottom line.(ABC News: Marco Catalano)

But there will still be an almost half-a-trillion-dollar budget hole, with an underlying cash deficit of $210.3 billion in 2020-21, $103.7 billion in 2021-22, $76.2 billion in 2022-23 and $51.7 billion in 2023-24.

And while China’s trade war with Australia was hurting everything from lobsters to wine, Deloitte Access Economics partner Chris Richardson said it was “making us money rather than losing it”.

Deloitte Access Economics' Chris Richardson speaks at the National Press Club, 12 April 2017.
Deloitte Access Economics partner Chris Richardson said the trade war with China was “making us money rather than losing it”.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

Call for Government to step in now the Reserve Bank is ‘offline’

Dr Richardson said central banks around the world had limited influence on economic activity now that interest rates were at or near zero.

Australia’s cash rate remains at a record low of 0.10 per cent and Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has said interest rates will remain low for at least the next three years.

In that context, Dr Richardson said the Federal Government needed to continue to use whatever levers it could to propel the economy.

“Until now, budgets could concentrate on longer-term issues and leave the Reserve Bank to handle the ups and downs of the economy by raising or lowering interest rates,” Dr Richardson said.

“But it may be a number of years before the Reserve Bank is back online.”

He said the Federal Government would need to think about introducing temporary relief including boosting welfare spending, temporary cuts to the goods and services tax (GST) and further personal income tax cuts.

“The conversation needs to be, can the Government provide some help?” he said.

“The difficulty with that is that governments aren’t used to thinking about it. And the public, the media and the Opposition aren’t used to thinking about it.”

RBA building
Central banks around the world, including the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), are limited in what they can do to influence the economy when interest rates are near zero.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

MYEFO expected to show an improved Budget bottom line

Dr Richardson said extending the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, at a lower rate of $150 per fortnight until March 31, came at a cost of $3.2 billion this year.

There was a further $240 million put into extending the HomeBuilder grant until the end of March (although the current rate is due to reduce after December 31).

But there would be spending savings as JobKeeper and other stimulus measures taper off.

At the same time, MYEFO would show higher tax receipts with more people in jobs, and higher-than-expected profits, especially off the back of the high iron ore price.

“And that’s true even though a range of new spending has been announced since the budget, including on vaccines (as well as vaccine manufacturing capability), at a cost of $1 billion over 12 years,” Dr Richardson said.

“That outperformance — versus the [earlier] official forecasts — may lift to more than $15 billion by 2023-24.”

Dr Richardson said Treasury were conservative forecasters, “and they’ve become even more careful about building wriggle room into their budget forecasts during COVID”.

A close up of a female carpenter's hand marking up a piece of timber.
There was $240 million put into extending the HomeBuilder grant until the end of March.(Flickr: El Gringo)

Debt and deficits no longer as big a deal as they were pre-COVID

Deloitte Access Economics sees the economy larger than what Treasury projected by $33 billion in 2020-21 alone, a gap that widens to $106 billion by 2023-24.

It forecasts revenue gains of between $5.2 billion (in 2020-21), lifting to $14.7 billion (in 20233-24), helped along by the higher iron ore price and faster-than-expected recovery from the COVID crisis.

Spending will be $1.9 billion in 2020-21, with savings on JobKeeper from the healthier economy more than offset by the cost of extra policy spending, including on extending the end date of the Coronavirus Supplement and HomeBuilder, plus extra vaccine spending.

Dr Richardson said deficits were no longer as big a deal as they used to be.

The fact the credit ratings of Victoria and NSW had been recently downgraded was not a measure of the quality of budget settings.

“They merely assess the risk that those who lend to governments will be repaid,” Dr Richardson said.

He said governments needed to continue to spend to lift economies out of crisis.

Last week CBA released analysis saying that the faster-paced recovery, higher iron ore earnings and less demand for JobKeeper would drive the 2020-21 deficit down to $204 billion.



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Parliamentary inquiry to examine extremism in Australia amid increasing far-right threat



An inquiry into extremism in Australia will go ahead following a push by Labor for the government to look at the rising threat specifically posed by right-wing extremists. 

However, the inquiry will look at all forms of extremism in Australia, not just the increased threat posed by the far-right. 

The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security has signed off on an inquiry to examine the concerns following a referral from Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. 

This comes after vocal demands from Labor’s Home Affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally for parliament to examine Australia’s preparedness against the increasing threat presented by right-wing extremism.

Senator Keneally said she welcomed the government’s move to back the inquiry. 

“The emerging threat of right-wing extremism demands that we take seriously the advice of our national security agencies,” she told reporters in Canberra. 

“And that we as a parliament to take serious hours was ability to keep Australian safe.”

Committee chair and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said the committee would examine the nature, extent and threat posed by extremist movements and persons holding extremist views in Australia. 

This includes examining the motivations, objectives and capacity for violence of extremist groups including – but not limited to – Islamist and right-wing extremist groups. 

It will also look at how these have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic amid warnings far-right groups have attempted to exploit the crisis to recruit new members and push its ideology.  

The committee will also review the geographic spread of extremists in Australia and their links with international organisations. 

Another focus will be examining possible changes that could be made to the Commonwealth’s terrorist listing laws to address current and emerging terrorist threats. 

Labor MP Anne Aly said it was important the differences between right-wing extremism and other forms were recognised. 

“We know right-wing extremist groups [are] a real threat to Australia,” Dr Aly told reporters. 

“We know that there are young people who are being radicalised here.”

The rising right-wing extremist threat

Australia remains the only country within the five eyes intelligence network to so far avoid listing any right-wing extremist groups as banned terrorist organisations. 

However, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation recently said up to 40 per cent of its counterterrorism caseload had become linked to right-wing extremism.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has also identified a “steady increase” in operations directed towards right-wing extremism. 

An 18-year-old NSW man espousing neo-Nazi and other right-wing extremist was also arrested on Wednesday after allegedly encouraging a mass casualty terrorist attack.

He had been communicating on social media platforms, most of which were mainstream, about various extremist issues and had accessed material on bomb-making.



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Stock futures fall as traders weigh stimulus prospects and increasing Covid-19 cases


Traders work on the floor of the NYSE in New York.

NYSE

Stock futures fell on Monday night as traders kept an eye on negotiations for additional fiscal stimulus while the U.S. coronavirus caseload continues to rise.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures dipped 67 points, or 0.2%. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures also lost 0.2%.

Republican and Democratic leaders said Monday that Congress is trying to extend government funding for an additional week to try and strike a deal on new Covid-19 aid. The news came after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a $908 billion stimulus proposal last week.

“News out of DC that fiscal stimulus talks have resumed is also a positive development (though until a deal actually passes the President’s desk, this might be all hat, no cattle),” wrote Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “These headlines come at a critical time as we remain in a challenging time from both a health and economic perspective.”

Calls for a new aid bill being pushed through before year-end have grown recently as U.S. employment growth continues to slow down and the number of Covid-19 cases keeps rising.

More than 14.8 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The country’s daily infection rate, as a seven-day average, is also at an all-time high.

This latest spike in Covid-19 cases has led several states and cities to reimpose stricter social-distancing measures. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that New York City could lose indoor dining next week, adding that more severe restrictions would be imposed if hospitals reach a critical point.

“You can’t overwhelm the hospital system,” Cuomo said. “Overwhelming the hospital system means people die on a gurney in a hallway.”

The increase in Covid infections, coupled with the uncertainty around additional fiscal aid, knocked the Dow and S&P 500 off record levels on Monday. The Dow slid nearly 150 points, or 0.5%. The S&P 500 pulled back by 0.2%. However, the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.5% to a fresh record as traders sold value stocks in favor of high-flying growth names.

The iShares Russell 1000 Value ETF (IWD) dipped 0.6%. Its growth counterpart, the iShares Russell 1000 Growth ETF (IWF) advanced 0.4%.

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Covid infecting our dreams with increasing number linked to ‘cleanness’ and ‘contamination’



The coronavirus pandemic is even affecting our dreams, a new study has revealed.

Researchers found that more people are having sad or angry dreams during the pandemic which relate to “contamination” and “cleanness” and can be linked to social isolation.

They say that has led to “new challenges” in dealing with mental suffering related to social distancing and in quickly learning new social habits designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Study author Dr Natalia Bezerra Mota, of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, said: “Overall, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that dreams during the lockdown period reflect the waking challenges presented by the Covid 19 pandemic.

“Consistently with the Emotional Regulation Theory, negative emotions such as anger and sadness are more prominent during the pandemic period, reflecting a higher emotional load to be processed.”

In the study 239 dream reports from 67 people were examined. The dream reports were made either before the Covid 19 outbreak or during Brazil’s lockdown in March and April 2020.

Examples of dreams before the pandemic included dreaming about the radio and of fun work friends.

However examples from during the pandemic included one person’s dream of being late for school or work while not having their legs shaved, triggering feelings of embarrassment.

Recurrent dreams of threatening situations have proven to be an important sign in the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Social isolation measures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and adopted by many nations impose changes on social interactions, from distant working relationships to closer family interactions.

Scientists believed if these struggles are processed in dreams, they should be more common in people’s dreams during the pandemic than before.

Previous studies include dream reports collected from New Yorkers after the 9/11 attacks included incidents of being overwhelmed by a tidal wave or being attacked and robbed.

The study showed that the more anxious a person becomes in waking life, the more vivid the dream images will be.

Comparing pre pandemic dreams with pandemic dreams in lockdown, they found a higher amount of anger and sadness related words in pandemic dreams.

Links to the terms “contamination” and “cleanness” were also more common in pandemic dreams, while no difference was found in the amount of positive emotions, negative emotions anxiety-related words, or links with terms such as “sickness,” “health,” “life,” or “death.”

Dr Mota said: “We found a significant correlation between the combination of dream content peculiarities and mental suffering.

“Pandemic dreams showed a higher proportion of anger and sadness words and higher average semantic similarities to the terms ‘contamination’ and ‘cleanness.'”These features seem to be association with mental suffering linked to social isolation.

“These results corroborate the hypothesis that pandemic dreams reflect mental suffering, fear of contagion and important changes in daily habits that directly impact socialisation.”

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.





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Kaplan says he’s not in favor of Fed increasing bond purchases


Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan said he wouldn’t be in favor of changing the central bank’s bond-purchasing program even though he sees some rocky times ahead for the U.S. economy.

Speaking Wednesday to CNBC, Kaplan said financial conditions are such that the Fed probably doesn’t need to do more than its current pace of at least $120 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities.

“I would not want to do that at this point,” he said during a “Closing Bell” interview. “I’ll go into the December meeting with an open mind. But I think we’ve got very accommodative financial conditions, we’ve got historically low rates on the long end, and so I don’t know that increasing the size or extending maturities of our bond purchases would help address this situation that I’m concerned about over the next three or six months.”

During that period, Kaplan expects a “challenging” economy where growth could slow considerably or stop due primarily to surging coronavirus cases.

The U.S. saw 176,785 new cases Tuesday though the last week has shown a slight deceleration in pace from the rapid growth in October and November, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Hospitalization and death rates continue to climb, and economic restrictions have returned to some areas.

Investors have been looking to see whether the Fed will step up bond purchases that have pushed its asset holdings to nearly $7.3 trillion, or if it will alter the composition by buying longer-dated securities. Minutes from the November meeting indicated that members were in favor of altering the program “fairly soon.”

However, Kaplan said that Congress probably would be better suited to get the economy through what could be some rough days before widespread dissemination of vaccines that should start to come online over the next few weeks.

He added that the stock market’s continued climb is a result of investors looking through the looming rough patch and toward what Kaplan anticipates as “very strong” growth in 2021.

“I think it’s more likely reacting to the idea that we’re gonna have strong growth next year even though we’ve got a rough next quarter or two,” he said. “It may also be reacting to the prospect of fiscal stimulus that would help get us through the next three to six months.”

Kaplan is currently a voting member of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee, though he will lose that status come January.



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Japan’s Fukoku Life increasing FX-hedged foreign bonds – official


Article content

TOKYO — Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance increased currency-hedged foreign bond investments in the half year to September as it is wary of a decline in the dollar, an investment planning official said on Monday.

The insurer plans to continue raising such holdings slightly in the current half year too, as it expects the dollar to weaken against the yen after the U.S. elections next month no matter who wins, the official said.

(Reporting by Daiki Iga, writing by Hideyuki Sano Editing by Chang-Ran Kim)



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Why there’s “increasing disenchantment” at North Melbourne


Caroline Wilson suggests there is potential “carnage” at North Melbourne, believing that influential club great and current board member Glenn Archer is having a significant say in their off-season movements.

The club is currently re-shaping their playing and coaching ranks after a disappointing season, delisting 11 players and publicly putting star forward Ben Brown up for trade.

They also parted ways with several assistant coaches and brought back dual premiership player and former Sydney Swans assistant John Blakey to work under current senior coach Rhyce Shaw.

Wilson has now revealed that there’s angst internally around CEO Ben Amarfio and football boss Brady Rawlings’ roles at the club.

She said that Archer was currently overseeing football operations at the club, potentially undermining both Rawlings and Amarfio.

“It just feels like it’s carnage at that football club,” she said on Channel 9’s Footy Classified.

“I want to focus on two big off-field personnel – (firstly) Ben Amarfio who is the CEO. The previous CEO Carl Dilena was removed because they wanted someone with football and cultural smarts.

“There’s increasing disenchantment that Ben Amarfio never went up to the hub to oversee what was going on with players clearly in disarray, a rookie coach and football manager.

“Then you’ve got Brady Rawlings, urged by West Coast (last year) not to leave and finish his contract there. Their experienced CEO in Trevor Nisbett said he was not quite ready.

“I understand he put his latest plan to the board not so long ago and I’m not sure any of it was listened to.

“The last coaches to get the flick were Jarred Moore, Heath Scotland and his brother Jade Rawlings, their view was that they were not let go by Brady Rawlings and this was all done by the board and Glenn Archer.

“Archer is clearly running that football club on every football level and I’m not sure that is healthy.”

Archer returned to the club’s board this year, just a year after stepping down from his role as football director due to increased business commitments elsewhere.






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Australian firms and their staff face increasing risks in China


Is China targeting Australian journalists only — or all Australians? It’s hard to know but it’s clear Australians face real risks going there.

Xi Jinping and Scott Morrison (Images: AAP)

Australia’s business engagement with China — for decades the object of encouragement and enthusiasm by successive governments eager to take advantage of a massive economic opportunity — is now a potential source of vulnerability after three Australian journalists were targeted.

After facilitating the flight of journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith in the face of pressure from Chinese police — ostensibly related to the arrest and detention of Australian-Chinese TV anchor Cheng Lei — the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed its advice that Australians should not travel there given “authorities have detained foreigners because they’re ‘endangering national security’. Australians may also be at risk of arbitrary detention.”

The advice is slightly more guarded for Australians already there: “If you’re already in China and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means.”





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