The rising number of hate crimes against minorities must serve as a wake-up call for the European Parliament and political parties to effectively limit all forms of hate speech in election campaigns
One year ago, Dutch MEP Marcel de Graaff, who co-chairs the Europe of Nations and Freedom group, described Muslims as a dangerous threat and accused them of “launch[ing] Europe back to the Middle Ages”.
He equated the religion of Islam with “gender inequality, polygamy, child marriage, slavery and honour killings”. The kind of rhetoric that Muslims have unfortunately become accustomed to. As a response, the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI), together with 50 MEPs and the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO), published an open letter to the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.
They called for appropriate actions to be taken to denounce Islamophobic hate speech in the Parliament. To this day, Tajani has not responded nor has there been any action taken against De Graaff by the European Parliament.
Such speech is a dangerous reflection of the rhetoric used by supremacist extremists that want to get rid of Muslims to “purify” their societies of the existential threat that they supposedly pose. At the core of the arguments of De Graaff and many other European politicians are the very same ideas that motivated a terrorist who attacked mosques and murdered 51 people in Christchurch. Casting the New Zealand attacks as a distant, horrible phenomenon together with hollow ‘thoughts and prayers’, means ignoring the local roots of the violence that led to this massacre.
The European Parliament must act to end all forms of hate speech in the Parliament, and send out a strong message to all candidate MEPs that hate speech in election campaigns will not be tolerated. Hate speech includes effectively inciting hatred against a specific individual, like French National Rally Leader Marine Le Pen’s incitement to hatred when Yasmine Ouirhene won the Young European of the Year prize. But it can also mean a constant demonisation of entire groups and their institutions, a characteristic of many right-wing political parties and movements.
It is time for the European Commission, Council and Parliament to recognise the existence of a global white extremist ideology. The far-right Norwegian mass killer Andrej Breivik, who feared European ‘cultural suicide’ by Muslims, also drew on the same extremist ideology as the terrorist who waged the Christchurch attacks, some of which is rooted in the Serbian extreme-right propaganda that motivated the killings of 8,000 Muslim men in the Srebrenica genocide.
Indeed, Austrian newspaper Der Standard highlighted the terrorist’s links to far-right networks in the German and Austrian army. These European roots must not come as a surprise. Figures from the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU, the OSCE and numerous civil society organisations have long been warning of a huge rise in anti-Muslim attacks. They also point to the increase in far-right governments, parties and movements in Europe which combine racist speech and anti-European agendas.
The terrorist attacks in New Zealand were caused by white supremacist ideology that threatens both Muslims and the entire European project. So why have the European Parliament and the Council of the EU still not adopted resolutions to combat Islamophobia?
The European Parliament can only vote on a resolution if a motion for one is put forward by MEPs. The Council of the EU, as the EU’s inter-governmental institution, is presided over by a different member state every six months. The lack of commitment to counter Islamophobia is therefore not surprising, given that the last presidency was held by the right-wing Austrian government. Indeed, since Islamophobia has become an accepted practice in almost all EU member states, it is equally less surprising that the Council has shown no inclination to protect Muslim communities.
The Christchurch attack took place 70 days before the European elections. This must serve as a wake-up call for the Parliament and the Council to approve a declaration on the fight against Islamophobia and on the development of a common security approach to protect Muslim communities and institutions in Europe better.
It should invite EU member states to adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of Islamophobia, as part of their policies on preventing racism, xenophobia, radicalisation and violent extremism. The European Commission must classify far-right extremists of whatever name, title or label, as a global terrorist network, who committed attacks ranging from the Tree of Life and Poway Synagogues in the USA to the mosques in New Zealand.
Systematic hate speech against Muslims online and offline fuel each other.
Christchurch is the violent proof of the result of normalising Islamophobia. Yet the staggering lack of leadership by most political figures in Europe in openly supporting their Muslim communities and taking concrete actions against Islamophobia further normalises the problem.
The EU must ensure it is not turning a blind eye to political extremism in any of its forms. It is the responsibility of the Commission, Council and Parliament to protect all EU citizens and residents, of every background and creed.
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