A man carries a EU flag, after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week’s UK referendum on European Union membership could tilt the EU toward either greater disintegration or stronger union; Europe finds itself at a vital crossroads.
The UK campaign against membership has not been without its controversies; images of Syrian refugees have been used in campaign posters to evoke fears of about an impending demographic invasion of Europe. On the other hand, the upcoming EU presidency in July will go to a Slovak government whose party leader openly admires the 1939-1945 Nazi-sponsored Slovak state that sent 75,000 Jewish citizens to Nazi concentration camps, and a prime minister who said Muslim refugees are not welcome in Slovakia.
It is within this increasingly politicized climate of fear, divisiveness and bigotry that the first ever European Islamophobia Summit will be taking place in Sarajevo this week; a gathering of political leaders, journalists, academics and civil society representatives from across Europe and the US.
Anti-Muslim hate crime and bigotry after all is undoubtedly a real problem.
Anti-Muslim hate crime tripled in London during December 2015.
According to Dilcra, a French government body, the number of Islamophobic hate crimes increased three-fold in 2015. According to Spain’s largest Islamic organization, the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities, 2015 saw an 11-fold increase in reports of anti-Muslim hate crime. And calls by US presidential candidate Donald Trump to ban all Muslims from entering the US represents the kind of collective stigmatization of a global religious community that could end up creating dangerous and disturbing precedent.
But it isn’t just anti-Muslim sentiment that has been on the rise in Europe. Anti-Semitic hate crime had surged to 93 percent in London by the end of 2015. Human Rights First reported a doubling in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2015 compared to the previous year, and the recent attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando by what appears to have been an Islamic State-inspired attacker also drew attention to the existence of a deep-seated homophobia. According to UK Home Office records, the number of UK homophobic attacks reported to police leapt by nearly a quarter in 2015.
Ultimately, at times of economic and political uncertainty it seems that bigotry and prejudice rise across the board – against all minorities, whether they be Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, members of the Afro-Caribbean community, the LGBT community, refugees or migrants. And all forms of bigotry and prejudice share the same pernicious structure, whether it be Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia or any other form of prejudice, irrespective of where it comes from.
That’s why the first European Islamophobia Summit will be discussing cross-community unity against all forms of discrimination and prejudice – something central to any comprehensive response.
And yes: problems of extremism do indeed afflict the Muslim world.
Islamic State (ISIS) demonstrates that.
But counter-Islamophobia efforts are crucial to counter-extremism efforts.
ISIS attacks intend to divide Western societies by establishing the “gray zone”; the destruction of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims. An Islamophobic reaction is precisely what ISIS terrorists and far-right Islamophobic activists hope for in order to realize their clash of civilizations narratives.
For us to prevent such an outcome and for Europe’s values of tolerance, democracy and pluralism to stand the test of time, the discourses of hate and division must be confronted with unity, humanitarianism and optimism.
That can be achieved by the collective will of people from all backgrounds working together.
Unfortunately, this is yet to occur in Europe, with leaders of countries such like Slovakia and Hungary unabashedly stating that Islam is not welcome in their countries, several other European countries refusing to give shelter to desperate refugees and the disturbing mainstreaming of far-right parties.
What’s more, this constant exploitation of fear is spiraling into noticeable democratic deficits in some European countries, perhaps the starkest warning yet that the discourse of hate and division is fundamentally antithetical to democracy, diversity and pluralism.
It is fundamental that people from all faiths and backgrounds work together in the spirit of pluralism and democracy to face these radical lurches with courage and build a better Europe for tomorrow. If this investment is not made now, then there is little point in making them tomorrow.
The author is the spokesperson for the first European Islamophobia Summit, being held in Sarajevo from the 24th to the 26th of June.