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There is a social pandemic poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims | Blog Living Diversity - Shaping Society

There is a social pandemic that is poisoning Europe: hatred of Muslims

October 8, 2020 / Dr. Patrycja Sasnal, Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar

Unless anti-Muslim prejudice is targeted, action to combat racism in Europe in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests is pointless

By Patrycja Sasnal and Yasemin El-Menouar

The EU has seldom reacted so quickly. Just four months after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter campaign in the USA, which also spread to Europe and sparked protests across the continent, the EU has appointed an anti-racism coordinator for the first time. However, this excellent idea will come to nothing if it does not also address hostility towards Muslims. Because instead of building a “truly anti-racist union”, as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, expressly wishes, we will otherwise continue to have to do with an anti-Muslim union.

There are now prejudices against Muslims across Europe. Not only do we collectively devalue and discriminate Muslim Europeans, violence against Muslims is also increasing in Europe.

Since the refugee and migration crisis of 2015 and the jihadist terrorist attacks in France, Spain and Germany, Muslims have had an extremely negative image in European societies.
Results of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Religion Monitor from 2019 confirm the distrust of Muslims that is widespread across Europe. In Germany and Switzerland, every second respondent said that they perceive Islam as a threat. In the UK, two in five respondents share this perception. In Spain and France around 60 percent consider Islam to be incompatible with the “West”. In Austria, one in three respondents would not want any Muslim neighbors.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) confirms these results in its latest report on the rise and importance of hate crimes against Muslims. And according to the European police coordination office Europol, right-wing extremist terrorism has skyrocketed in the past year. What is particularly worrying, however, is how quickly anti-Muslim racism has turned violent.

In its latest report, the Council of Europe warns that "Europe is facing a shocking reality: anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and other racially motivated hate crimes are increasing at an alarming rate". This is also confirmed by the OSCE in its report on hate crimes against Muslims.

If these developments weren't so terrifying, one could just be amazed: From Spain to Bulgaria, from Finland to France - people everywhere now have prejudices against Muslims. And this regardless of the country's economic strength, the size of its Muslim community, the religious and ethnic composition of the population, foreign relations with the Muslim world and the respective refugee policy after 2015.

Germany and Poland, for example, are two very different European countries. The German Muslim community comprises 4.7 million people or 5.7 percent of the total population. It is more than 200 times larger than the Muslim community in Poland, where around 20,000 Muslims live, which is just 0.05 percent of the total population. The German gross domestic product is seven times larger than the Polish one. And Germany is religiously much more diverse than Poland. An even better indicator to show differences between the two countries is their policy towards refugees in 2015: Germany's “welcoming culture” stood in stark contrast to Poland's stubborn refusal to accept refugees. And yet today roughly the same proportion of Germans and Poles think negatively about Muslims.

In Germany, racism is particularly common in the form of anti-Muslim prejudices. 52 percent of those surveyed in the Religion Monitor 2019 said they perceive Islam as a threat. The negative perception of Islam in Germany has remained stable at this high level for 10 years. In Poland, where few Muslims live, “Arabs” (who are usually equated with Muslims) have also been the least popular group for over a decade. In a 2020 poll, 55 percent of Polish respondents said they didn't like them.

In both Germany and Poland, anti-Muslim prejudices provide fertile ground for racist violence. According to the German police statistics, the number of crimes classified as Islamophobic rose in 2019 by 4.4 percent to 950 crimes. Attacks on mosques and refugee centers have become a serious threat to Germany's national security. The murder of nine people in Hanau in February of this year is one of the most devastating attacks. In Poland, hate crimes have declined since 2016, but here, too, the majority of hate crimes are now committed against Muslims or “people who are believed to be Muslims”.

Anti-Muslim prejudices are not only ubiquitous in all European countries, but can also be found across the political spectrum. Regardless of whether they are on the right, in the middle or on the left - everyone seems to be taken with Muslims, albeit for different reasons.

In Germany, Islamophobia focuses on the question of whether Muslims or other minorities can be “real Germans”. A whole generation of German Muslims has now grown up in a social climate in which they were constantly confronted with this question and still feel compelled to justify their religion to this day. The “Alternative for Germany” party, which defends “Judeo-Christian values” against so-called Islamization, is currently the largest opposition party in the Bundestag. Their ideas have now penetrated into the middle of society.

Among liberals and leftists, prejudices against Islam often feed on a position of "humanistic universalism, human rights, gender equality and democracy," as one Polish liberal commentator put it, only to warn of a creeping Islamization of Europe . Even the harshest critics of the PiS government in Poland call Muslims bluntly “religious fanatics”. “Not that I am against Islam,” they say. So far, however, Islam has lacked a reformation. Muslims today are "like Christians in the Middle Ages".

Criticism of religion is of course permissible. And of course not all Europeans are racist. But xenophobia grows in times of crisis like this. The pandemic, the looming recession and global insecurity can certainly exacerbate the existential threat that racism and hostility towards Muslims are already presenting to the European Union and democracy today. So the European scapegoat of choice will most likely be Muslim. This is shown by the fact that populists and right-wing extremists have recently been able to vilify Islam more and more openly without having to fear general opposition.

The Black Lives Matter protests have had positive effects insofar as they have mobilized activists and politicians in Europe to take stronger action against racism and Islamophobia. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered for anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrations across Europe this summer. As a direct consequence of the Black Lives Matter protests in Germany, the Bundestag recently commissioned the “German Center for Integration and Migration Research” (DeZIM) to set up a “Racism Monitor” funded with 10 million euros.

The appointment of an anti-racism coordinator from the EU can also provide new impetus for developing a pan-European approach against Muslim racism. To this end, the existing office for coordinating European efforts to combat anti-Muslim hatred - which was created in 2015 but has achieved little so far - should be given an expanded budget and a clear, strong mandate and included.

A determined and energetic anti-racism coordinator of the EU should not only take over the coordination between the EU institutions, but also monitor and document the anti-Muslim hatred in all member states on an ongoing basis. So far, only 15 out of 27 member states have developed strategies to combat racism.

There are prejudices not only in regions that do not know diversity, such as still purely Christian cities and villages. We all live in social bubbles, none of which are free from prejudice. That is exactly where we have to start.

We should all develop a "keen nose" for what Frantz Fanon called the "Bad Smell of Racism" - those seemingly sensible views that hide a bias that is casually dropped at a friendly dinner or party. Don't leave it in the room like that. Talk out loud about anti-Muslim racism. Call things by their names.

EU legislation classifies anti-Muslim racism as racism. If we understand and name anti-Muslim racism as such, its ominous character becomes clear. Racism is not a harmless or temporary phenomenon. It is a social pandemic that digs into social structures and infiltrates all areas of life - and ultimately dissolves them at some point.

The original article was published on September 28, 2020 in The Guardian and was translated into German.