There are major forces within Europe normalising Islamophobia with liberal democracies such as Austria, Denmark, and France amongst the worst culprits, according to a new report.
The 664-page ‘European Islamophobia Report 2021’ report highlights Islamophobia in employment, education, media, the legal system, and politics in 27 European countries.
Last year’s report focussed on France’s hostility towards Muslims. This year, the attention turned to Austria and its former chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
“The Islamophobia becoming normalised and institutionalised by liberal democracies such as Austria, Denmark, and France is alarming,” says the report.
“While the Macron government is continuing with its crackdown on Muslim associations and mosques, many of the measures taken and laws implemented by the Austrian government have been largely defeated by the justice system. Yet, the victims of these policies remain traumatised and left to deal with the repercussions of their haunting experiences,” it adds.
This is the sixth edition of the annual report. For this year’s edition, 35 experts from the academic world and civil society contributed to the coverage of the 27 European countries.
Austria & Sebastian Kurz
The report says the state of Islamophobia in Europe continues to be problematic, with many policies being further implemented, such as the dissolution of Islamophobia watchdog organisations in France.
“Such developments show the end of a journey, built on Islamophobic exclusions, for politicians,” says the report.
“This is why we have chosen Sebastian Kurz’s portrait for the cover of this year’s edition of the European Islamophobia Report. Kurz, who was hailed as a one-time political wunderkind by domestic Austrian and international media, came to power by making Islam and Muslims his number one target in election campaigns.
“More than that, he was the leader of a conservative government that implemented one anti-Muslim policy after the other, from hijab bans to the closure of mosques. ”
Kurtz was forced to step down at the end of 2021 following allegations of corruption.
The report adds: “His political ‘career’ can be read as a textbook example of hegemonising Islamophobia and, at the same time, of how empty populism which is essentially built on anti-Muslim racism can end. Sebastian Kurz accumulated immense power by scapegoating and securitising Muslims, which in the end turned out only to be a screen to hide alleged corruption and increasing authoritarianism.”
Liberal democracy decline fuels Islamophobia
The persistence of anti-Muslim racism should be seen against the backdrop of the decline of liberal democracy in Europe, according to the report.
Politics remains the essential driver of Islamophobia in Europe, while the internet is a place of wide dissemination of hate speech, it adds.
It says ‘political Islam’ or the Muslim Brotherhood is a weapon used by Islamophobes to silence and exclude Muslims from the public sphere.
The report does look at some positive trends with several European and international institutions taking small steps towards fighting Islamophobia, such as the UN declaration of 15 March as ‘International Day to Combat Islamophobia.’
In some countries with a small number of Muslims, like the Czech Republic, the report says there seems to be a trend of decreasing anti-Muslim hate crime and Islamophobic political discourse.
It says this is due to the decreasing relevance of immigration issues compared to 2015, when this trend was at its peak and politicised, and the far right’s attention turning to ‘covid totalitarianism.’
Based on its findings, the report emphasised three specific recommendations to policymakers and political institutions.
- It urges European countries to “bring life and energy” to the unanimously accepted resolution of the United Nations declaring March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
- It wants European institutions to take the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance’s “General Policy Recommendation No. 5 on preventing and combating anti-Muslim racism and discrimination” seriously and to implement it.
- European and national institutions should take the findings of the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights as presented in the “Directive (EU) 2017/541 on Combating Terrorism – Impact on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” seriously and recognise the damage of anti-terrorism legislation on Muslim communities across Europe.
You can read the full report here (PDF)