Europe has an Islamophobia problem. Who’s going to stop it?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A protester holds a poster reading 'Stop to Islamophobia', as people and members of anti-racism associations gather to protest against Islamophobia at the Gare du Nord in Paris, France, 10 November 2019. [EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON]

It is time to acknowledge that Europe has an Islamophobia problem – perpetuated by a poorly regulated media and sustained by agenda-driven think-tanks – and to act on it, writes Magid Magid.

Magid Magid is a British Green member of the European Parliament.

In sheer urgency, and while I continue to hold the privileged platform of being an MEP, I turn to Europe’s leaders and citizens, not only as a migrant elected representative, but as a Muslim, to deliver both a desperate plea and a heartfelt, rallying cry:

Let us recognise the presence of rampant Islamophobia in our society as fact before it is too late; before the lessons history has left at humanity’s door wither entirely due to our continued denial and failure to act. And following this acceptance, let us comprehensively and committedly collaborate in ridding our communities of this horrific, racist scourge.

There isn’t a single country in Europe where Islamophobic attacks are not on the rise. France saw a 52% increase from 2017 to 2018; in Austria it was 74%. And in the same year, seven pig’s heads were left threateningly around Dutch mosques.

In England and Wales, religiously motivated attacks increased fivefold from 2011-2018, with Muslims making up the majority of victims. And more than one in four people in the EU would be uncomfortable with their child being in love with a Muslim.

I believe Islamophobia is an irrational hatred once promoted to justify European belligerence, plundering and ruthless colonial conquests in Muslim-majority lands.

Today, it is perpetuated by a poorly regulated media and sustained by agenda-driven think-tanks and self-professed ‘experts’ who brazenly deny the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry. In its most implicit incarnation, Islamophobia is a prejudicial barrier, and in its most explicit form it manifests as an existential threat to all who suffer in its shadow.

“Migration is the mother of all problems” – that’s according to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. But central to the flagrant anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment stoked by politicians across our continent is an unchecked undercurrent of Islamophobia.

Muslims have been selectively scapegoated for the ills of society, and relentless suspicion has been unfairly and unjustly cast our way for merely existing. Often the first to suffer are women who choose to express their Muslim faith and identity in the clothes they wear – in 2018, 76% of victims of Islamophobic incidents in Belgium were female.

Instead of defending people’s liberties to the last; their basic human rights and freedom to eat what they want, to wear what they like. and practice the faith of their choice, we have mainstream political leaders telling Muslim girls they don’t have a right to freedom of expression, issuing fines for calls to prayer, or banning halal meat.

While far-right extremism and populism proliferates, European governments and political leaders have been culpably complicit in condoning and abetting anti-Muslim hatred like no other form of racism.

With politicians and journalists demonising Muslims on a daily basis, Islamophobia has become a conventional mainstream viewpoint, like being Eurosceptic or pro-choice. It is no longer hidden in corners of pubs or the internet – it walks boldly through the corridors of power wearing a nice suit.

We also see supposedly liberal actors across Europe willing to compromise with extreme-nationalist and far right forces fulminating amid extensive socioeconomic unrest. Political leaders claim to celebrate cohesion and take pride in diversity, while confusingly committing to promote the ‘European way of life’ in the same breath.

And while tackling antisemitism – another terrible scourge which we must act to end immediately – is specifically referenced in President von der Leyen’s mission letters to her College, Islamophobia doesn’t even get a mention.

Meanwhile, the Commission employs precisely one policy officer to work on the issue; in the Parliament, Brexit means the handful of MEPs like me who identify as Muslim will shrink to a number so far from representative, it’s just embarrassing. Hopes of a brighter future for the millions of Muslim EU citizens seem far off; will you take up the fight? 

Hate is not an unassailable fact of existence –  it is a human and a political choice. The great obstacles that lie before us – whether that’s climate chaos or global inequality – require universal and collaborative efforts.

When we treat our own Muslim citizens as human beings, we can awaken a togetherness which draws on the efforts of all.

And we can move away from our present heartless indifference to better empathise with those suffering globally and ensure a commensurate, humane response – whether it’s Yemenis dying beneath our very own bombs, the Rohingya brutally banished from their homes, or the Uighur savagely sectioned in Chinese internment camps.

I want to leave behind a better European Parliament and Union. That’s why I’m setting up a working group on Islamophobia and writing to the College of Commissioners asking them present a clear and credible strategy with sufficient resources to push back against this overwhelming tidal wave of anti-Muslim hate.

We must open up a space so that after I leave, many of our hardworking, committed colleagues – especially my good friends from the ARDI (Anti-racism and diversity intergroup) and beyond – can fill it with strategic thinking and determined action.

Europe must defeat Islamophobia together, and though I won’t be there alongside them in the Parliament, I’ll continue the fight on the ground. Put simply, this is our fight for survival.

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