Anti-Muslim sentiments have been one of the main agendas of the Muslim communities living in the Western world in recent years, caused by the growing number of anti-Muslim attacks. According to experts, the main reason behind the culmination of these anti-Muslim attacks is the discriminatory rhetoric of politicians and media targeting Muslims, even to the point that such remarks have become a "new normal" and threaten not only Muslims, but all European societies, by leading to the collapse of values and principles that the Europe embraced before.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Enes Bayraklı, director of European Studies at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), who is the co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report published by SETA since 2015, said: "The rhetoric that politicians use against Muslims has been getting more radicalized all across Europe. We even see the legalization of some restrictions targeting Muslims in some countries," SETA has been annually publishing the European Islamophobia Report for the last four years. This year's report covers 34 European countries and draws specific profiles for each country by focusing on the practices of Islamophobia in different areas of daily life and politics. The report sheds light on "Islamophobic terrorism and the impact of anti-Muslim discourse upon human rights, multiculturalism, and the state of law in Europe." "It is the most comprehensive report about the issue, providing brief information about active far-right groups, discriminatory practices and laws against Muslims in each country," Bayraklı said.
Looking at the main findings of the report, Bayraklı said that the normalization of discriminatory rhetoric against Islam and Muslims is the most striking phenomenon.
According to Bülent Bilgi, president of the Union of International Democrats (UID), European societies have been living in a comfort zone since the end of World War II and added recent migration waves have threatened those comfort zones. "These concerns and fears were fueled by the rhetoric used by populist and far-right politicians, media, and even some mainstream political parties," he said and added they made people believe their civilization is under threat. Bayraklı underlined that the activity and influence of far-right paramilitary groups have increased all across Europe. He stated that a Europol report also highlighted the dramatic rise of far-right groups' activity, however, they did not touch upon anti-Muslim ideology as one of the main reasons.
On the other hand, the SETA report gives actual examples of anti-Muslim practices from all countries analyzed.
Enes Bayraklı, Director of European Studies at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) .
In Austria, 540 cases of anti-Muslim incidents were recorded in 2018, compared to 309 cases in 2017 — a rise of approximately 74% of anti-Muslim racist acts.
In France, 676 anti-Muslim incidents were documented in 2018 against 446 in 2017 with a 52% rise. Among these 676 incidents, 20 involved physical attacks (3%), 568 discrimination (84%) and 88 of them involved hate speech (13%).
In Germany, there were 678 attacks on German Muslims, including 40 attacks on mosques
Bigger danger close for Muslims in Europe
"Unfortunately, all these developments point that a similar terror attack in Europe to the one in New Zealand is very possible in the near future," Bayraklı said criticizing the lack of preventive measures in Western countries following the 2011 Norwegian terrorist attacks by Anders Breivik, that killed 77 people.
In July 2011, Anders Breivik killed eight people with a van bomb in Oslo before shooting dead 69 participants of a Labour Party Youth League summer camp on Utoya island.
On March 15, 2019, 51 Muslim worshipers at two mosques in New Zealand in March were killed in a terrorist attack by Brenton Tarrant.
While Breivik targeted the Labour Party, or "liberal elite" as he called them, for allowing immigrants to enter Europe, Tarrant went "straight to the target," directly attacking the Muslim community.
One question is posed here: what can be done from now on? Bayraklı suggested that far-right groups must be cracked down on, anti-Muslim discourse and attacks must be seriously analyzed and punished, and Islamic foundations and institutions must be protected.
"Most importantly, the rhetoric in media and politics that normalize anti-Muslim racism must be fixed. Because, the radicalization starts with the language and narrative. Then, groups affected by this rhetoric are getting mobilized and target Muslims," he added.
When we analyze the anti-Muslim discrimination in Europe, women are the main victims. For example, 70% of anti-Muslim racism in France targeted Muslim women. Also, around 70 cases of Islamophobic incidents were recorded in Belgium, where 76% of the victims were female.
"They were not just examples of verbal abuses or discrimination, there were also violent acts," explained Bayraklı.
Saying that Muslims have been targeted by various sections in Western societies specifically after the 9/11 terror attacks, Bayraklı added: "As a result, politicians have adopted a more radical rhetoric against Muslims each passing day since. Then, global financial crisis and refugee waves also contributed to this trend by triggering fears about economy, migration, and security. However, the political stance is the main reason. Before there was xenophobia, now it is Islamophobia directly targeting Muslim identity."
Turkey has been trying to bring the issue to the agenda of the international community. At a U.N. event in New York City last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that hate speech has become the most frequently used tool in the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment, racism and xenophobia, underlining that Turkey is determined to contribute to efforts to fight it.
Another important topic is that the far-right has been gaining power by exploiting fears in Western societies and mainstream traditional parties could not produce any response to this trend, Bayraklı explained and added: "As they kept losing votes, they got closer to the far-right. The whole political spectrum in Europe completely shifted toward the right."
In addition to politicians, the media also plays a crucial role in reproducing anti-Muslim racism. According to Bayraklı, despite traditional media playing an important role, social media is the one that plays a much higher role.
"With a lack of control, social media spreads and normalize discriminatory rhetoric, fake news, negative propaganda and hate speeches against Muslims and Islam," he said.
Bilgi said that Europe has radically distanced universal values that are supposed to represent and added they must develop a comprehensive strategy by taking lessons from history.
A combination of politicians' rhetoric, the language of media, concerns about economy and security, migration waves and terror attacks all made Muslims scapegoats and led to wide-scale discrimination.
"As a result, some discriminatory practices and policies targeting Muslim identity that could not be thought in Europe 15-20 years ago, now, has become a new standard and normalized," Bayraklı explained.
He also stated that all these developments are not simply a "Muslim" issue; this is an issue that threatens all European societies. Because, all these developments lead to tight security policies and societal violence by negatively affecting all of society and the future of Europe.
Traditional parties adapted to anti-Muslim trend
Another important topic is what this trend means for Europe's future and values that Europe represent. Speaking about this, Bayraklı said many values and principles Europe embraced before have been questioned now and it is unknown to what extent this will continue.
"After World War II, far-right ideologies and groups were isolated in Europe. Today, they all have become the new normal. For instance, they have become the coalition partner in Austrian government. Something like that happened nearly 20 years ago and all of Europe fiercely reacted to it. Today, there was no strong reaction because it has been normalized," Bayraklı explained.
Bayraklı said that we cannot categorize Europe and Western civilization into a single basket when analyzing their reactions and awareness about rising anti-Muslim trends.
"There are some sections who are aware of this trend. Specifically, Jewish communities are very worried about recent developments because they know from their historical experiences that all these developments will lead to bigger waves of discrimination targeting all minorities and differences," Bayraklı said.
He also said that some left and liberal groups are also worried but they face a dilemma, because they think that supporting Islam and Muslims contradict with secular values they have always supported. When we look at the bigger picture in politics, Bayraklı said there are a very few politicians who are brave enough to side with Muslims. "They have to pay political prices when they seem to be siding with Muslims. When the political trend is shifting to the right, most of the politicians cannot take the risk of losing votes," he added.