SETA (the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research), a non-profit research institute based in Turkey “dedicated to innovative studies on national, regional and international issues”[1], has published the third edition of its annual European Islamophobia Report (EIR). The report comprises of thirty-three country reports and country-specific policy recommendations to counter Islamophobia, and was compiled by forty prominent scholars and civil society actors who specialise in fields such as racism, gender, and discrimination studies[2].

Islamophobia as a threat to European democracies

The report states that monitoring Islamophobia in Europe has become urgent in recent years as it has increased following economic recession and the rise of far-right politics. It identifies four ways in which Islamophobia constitutes a serious challenge for European democracies[3];

  • Islamophobia severely impacts the lives of millions of European Muslims, not only affecting their physical lives, but also undermining their place in society and their sense of belonging in European nation states[4].
  • The rise of Islamophobia strengthens and reflects the normalisation of far-right discourse in the European political spectrum[5]. (Trump’s rhetoric is specifically mentioned as a cause of this)[6].
  • Islamophobia threatens the internal security of countries by intensifying tensions between communities and legitimising hate crimes against individuals[7].
  • Islamophobia is an obstacle for European international relations as it increases tension between EU member states and strategic partners such as Muslim countries. It also “mars the EU image of tolerance worldwide”[8].

Statistics reveal only ‘the tip of the iceberg’

As well as arguing that the claim that Muslims are not integrated into European cities is unfounded, the report argues that the “the extent of discrimination Muslims face in Europe is much greater than the numbers revealed in any report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime in Europe”. In other words, the available data on instances of Islamophobia in Europe only shows “the tip of the iceberg” of a larger, structurally-ingrained problem[9], which is propagated by politicians and the media.

There are a number of reasons why anti-Muslim hate crime might be underreported. The report gives four; victim unawareness of reporting mechanisms, lack of trust in the authorities, fear of being victimised again by police officers, and victims’ possible social proximity to the perpetrator or their social isolation[10].

The need for nation-state action, EU, and supranational action

The possibility that instances of Islamophobia might not be reported because of a lack of trust in the authorities designed to protect those being targeted illuminates the fact that “governments have a central role to play in ensuring access to justice; from the initial assessment of victims’ needs by police officers, from the initial assessment of victims’ needs by police officers, to support mechanisms for victims through governmental or nongovernmental institutions”[11].

This follows a trend of emphasis in the report on the nation states themselves doing more to tackle the problem of Islamophobia.

The report notes that NGOs and other organisations dedicated to tracking and tackling Islamophobia are unable to provide a European-wide daily monitoring system because of the size of the problem and the funds required, and thus thinks it should fall to nation states to do this.

Currently there is no official documentation of anti-Muslim hate crime in the vast majority of European nation states, despite the problem it poses to them and the rise of far-right views and rhetoric currently being experienced[12]. It states, “Successfully combatting Islamophobia requires outspoken and brave initiatives and persons (politicians and activists) who challenge this widespread normalized form of racism”[13].

However, this national effort also needs to be combined with a European and supranational effort, according to the report. This involves coordination among different NGOs and institutions such as the EU, the Council of Europe, the UN, and the OSCE[14], many of which themselves subscribe them to generalised suspicion against Muslims and fail to comprehensively understand the phenomenon of Islamophobia[15].

Islamophobia as propagated by politicians, the media, and academia

Despite the threat Islamophobia poses to European democracies, the report states that many European politicians and intellectuals on both the left and right wing of the spectrum are too preoccupied with worrying about terrorism to acknowledge the daily racism Muslims face in Europe[16].

It notes that the majority of terrorist attacks in Europe in 2017 were carried out by racists, nationalists, separatists, and left-wing extremists. However, European discourse around terrorism is mostly associated with Islamism and the general Muslim population, and politicians and the media contribute to this, meaning Muslims are both targeted by terrorism and the measures designed to counter it[17].

The report also observes the obsession with countering extremism as targeting Muslims in a number of additional ways. For example countering extremism may involve the weakening of religious infrastructure which it notes, “seem to target specifically Muslims, not extremists, and to restrain their scope of activities, which ultimately reflects already existing restrictions”[18]. Legislating against the wearing of religious garments also contributes to this[19].

Education and academia can propagate Islamophobia by disseminating incorrect information (in some cases, in support of specific Islamophobic agendas), or “when good initiatives are legitimized for the wrong ends”, such as when the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama defended the need for religious instruction in public school during counter-radicalisation discourse[20].

Increasingly, Islamophobic ideas are spread and hate crime is incited online, the report notes[21].

The rise of the far right as normalising Islamophobia

Relating to the above theme that politicians contribute to Islamophobia, the report charts the rise of the far right in Europe in two ways.

Firstly, far-right parties have gained major influence in some countries by becoming governing or opposition parties, which has led to their Islamophobic discourse becoming mainstream, especially as some formally centrist political parties have co-opted these ideas[22]. When parties are in opposition, right-wing political parties “are even more explicit about their racist utopia and hence speak out in a harsher and more direct way against Muslims”, making their role in Islamophobia even more significant[23].

Secondly, the report observes there is a stronger cooperation of various Islamophobic parties in Europe, which again brings their ideas into the mainstream. Both of these trends threaten “democratic order” in Europe according to the report[24].

Islamophobia as a gendered issue

The report picks up on gendered issues in Islamophobia, such as the wearing of Islamic garments by women at work. For example, the European Court of Justice (EJC) ruled in March 2017 that employers would be able to prohibit the wearing of religious garments by their employees, which the report states is contrary to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects “the freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. The report notes, “It will be Muslim women who will suffer from this regulation disproportionately”[25].

Steps Forward and Policy Recommendations

The report offers some optimism that the situation can improve as “Critical assessment of the current situation regarding Muslims in Europe is growing within parts of civil society”[26]. Each country receives its own set of policy recommendations in the report which “will support all those forces within European societies, who works towards a more equal society and fight every form of racism”.

Broadly, however, the report supports the recommendations which were made by the OSCE ODIHR office, the FRA, the ENAR, the European Coalition against Islamophobia, and other NGOs. These include recognising the specific form of racism targeting Muslims (which the UK government recently decided not to do), challenging the misconceptions and demonization of Islamophobia through evidence and statistics, and the need for stronger action against Islamophobia that will materialise into political action[27].

In addition to individual policy recommendations, significant incidents and developments of Islamophobia and discursive events in areas such as politics, the media, and education for each of the thirty-three countries are detailed.

[1] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 728.

[2] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 6.

[3] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 6.

[4] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 6.

[5] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 7.

[6] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 10.

[7] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 7.

[8] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 7.

[9] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 8.

[10] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 9.

[11] OSCE, 2018, cited in Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 9.

[12] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 8.

[13] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 9.

[14] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 10.

[15] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 11.

[16] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 7; see also 18.

[17] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 21.

[18] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 23-24.

[19] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 19-21.

[20] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 19.

[21] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 19.

[22] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 13; see also 16.

[23] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 14-15.

[24] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 13; see also 16-18.

[25] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 11.

[26] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 24.

[27] Bayrakli and Hafez, 2018, 25.

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Bayrakli, E. and Hafez, F. (eds). (2017) European Islamophobia Report 2017. Turkey: SETA.