From the headscarf seen as a tool of oppression and Arabic as the language of terrorism on French TV, to the antisemitic themes around George Soros on the British press, these February highlights are an overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Belgium – Senator vilifies Muslim women
Date of publication: ongoing
Media outlet: Blog “Women against Islamisation” (Vrouwen Tegen Islamisering)
Author: Anke Van dermeersch
About the source and the author: Women against Islamisation is a “collective of resilient women who oppose the left-wing immigration politics and the Islamisation of Europe that comes along with it.” The blog is solely devoted to anti-Muslim vilification. The author is Anke Van dermeersch, a Belgian senator of the far-right anti-immigrant party Vlaams Belang.
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The entire blog is focused on attacking the presence of Islam and Muslims in Europe. It states that Muslims should not live in Europe because the “Islamic sharia is full of Medieval barbaric regulations which are conflicting with the generally accepted principles of the European civilisation.” The blog insists that the woman is “the first victim of Islamisation”, and that women are discriminated, oppressed and subject to violence “in a systematic way in the Islamic world and also in Muslim communities in Europe.” The author also denies Islam the status of religion: “Islam is not a religion but an anti-democratic ideology.”
Myth Debunked: The blog deliberately creates fear and alarm by playing and exaggerating extremely negative stereotypes on the behaviour of Muslim men and women. Muslim women are categorised as oppressed and abused by Muslim men, with no exception. While it is true that Muslim women in Europe face patriarchy within their communities, they also face it outside their communities, by the wider society. In fact, many Muslim women are empowered and live an independent and active life. Islam is not inherently anti-democratic and misogynistic but, as ENAR explains, “just as any other religious, social or political frame, Islam can be used by men to impose a system of power that will preserve their privileges.”
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France – Journalist dismisses Arabic as just the language of terrorism
Date of publication: 5 February 2018
Media outlet: Touche Pas à Mon Poste, C8 channel.
About the source: Touche Pas à Mon Poste is a popular TV show in France, broadcast on the private TV channel C8. Guests share their opinions about other TV programmes and current affairs. The show reaches on average about 1.3 million viewers, mainly 15-34 years old.
Author: Isabelle Morini-Bosc, journalist
Description of the anti-Muslim content:
22-year-old student Mennel Ibtissem participated to France’s “The Voice” programme singing an English and Arabic version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. People from French far-right movements went to dig into Mennel Ibtissem’s social media accounts and found that the young woman expressed doubts about the terrorist nature of the 2016 Nice lorry attack. The TV show host, journalist Isabelle Morini-Bosc, commented “The headscarf (of Mennel Ibtissem) doesn’t shock me. The song in Arabic neither, though I find that, for these days, it may be not necessary. However, what she posted on the attack of Nice, that does bother me.”
TV show host Isabelle Morini-Bosc seems to think that nowadays is not a good time to sing in Arabic. But why not? Is it because Morini-Bosc associates Arabic with terrorism? Is she implying that speaking and singing Arabic means sympathising with terrorism?
Furthermore, the digging into the past social media posts of The Voice contestant Mennel Ibtissem come from French far-right groups who wanted to discredit her because of her because of her religious and cultural background. No other The Voice contestants have been exposed for old tweets. When French actress Marion Cotillard expressed doubts about the 9/11 attacks and the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, this did not cause a similar uproar.
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France – Journalist tells Muslim women what to wear
Date of publication: 27 February 2018
Media outlet: Touche Pas à Mon Poste, TV show
Author: Bernard de La Villardière, journalist
About the author: Bernard de La Villardière is a well-known French journalist often reproached by commentators of the TV show Touche pas à mon poste for the sensationalistic approach of his Enquête Exclusive programme. He is also accused of stigmatising the Muslim communities and the suburbs.
Description of the anti-Muslim content: After retweeting a controversial tweet by Waleed Al-Husseini, founder of the Council of Ex-Muslims, de La Villardière was invited to Touche pas à mon poste, where he explained his views against the headscarf. De La Villardière said “Women wearing the hijab – this is a regression”. When interviewed by the Huffington Post, he stated: “we can’t say we are for gender equality while normalising the headscarf. The headscarf is not a sign of devotion but a tool of submission.”
De La Villardière uses a very common stereotype about Muslim women which sees women with hijab as submissive and oppressed. While it is true that, in some cases, Muslim women are forced to wear the headscarf or the full-face veil, it is also true that in other cases Muslim women choose to wear it. As ENAR explains, “the pressure in Europe on Muslim women to unveil to ‘free’ themselves is grounded in colonial roots and amounts to telling a woman her body is not hers and needs external approval to be ‘accepted’ in public.” “Forcing women to wear the headscarf is just as violent as forcing them to remove it,” it adds.
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Germany – Tabloid accuses refugees to live a wealthy life
Date of publication: 3 February 2018
Media outlet: Bild
About the source: Bild is Germany’s biggest selling tabloid
Author: Lars Petersen
Headline: “Refugee family got 7300 Euro a month” (Flüchtlingsfamilie bekam monatlich 7300 Euro)
Description of the anti-refugee content: In a very sensationalistic way, the headline of this article states that a family of refugees in Germany receives 7300 euro per month. What the headline hides, however, is that those 7300 euro are actually for a family of ten people. Most of that money also goes on rent and other fixed charges, so a much smaller amount of money is left for family’s personal spending.
Myth Debunked: While research proves that refugees can be a driver of prosperity, one of the most persistent false myths about refugees and asylum seekers is that they enjoy a nice life and receive social benefits, thus being a burden on the state. In most of European countries, asylum seekers and refugees do receive a daily allowance, but this is very little. According to the Asylum Information Database, asylum seekers in Germany receive up to £35.21 a week. With this low income, many families are not able to pay for their basics needs. There is a lot of fake news about migrants living off benefits and locals living in poverty. Politicians easily garner public support through sensational and divisive rhetoric that uses migrants as convenient scapegoats. Sensationalistic headlines like this on Bild contribute to spread misinformation and fuel hatred towards people who fled war, persecutions, and extreme poverty.
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Hungary – Propaganda TV channel says phrasebook is a risk to national security
Date of publication: 24 February 2018
Media outlet: Tények, on TV2
About the source: TV2 is one of the main national television channels of Hungary and is known for its pro-government content. Tények is the channel news programme.
Headline: “The migrant-dictionary is dangerous for Europe” (Veszélyes Európára a migránsszótár)
Description of the anti-refugee and antisemitic content: On TV2 news programme Tények, a “Refugee Phrasebook”, produced by a German NGO funded by George Soros, is accused be a “national security risk”. The piece states that the manual “encourages irregular migrants to sneak in the country by saying one or two lies to circumvent the law”. János Halász, Fidesz party MP, is reported to have suggested that there is a need for the “Stop Soros Act” to prevent cases like this.
Myth Debunked: The Refugee Phrasebook is an open collection of useful words and phrases for refugees who just arrived to help them communicate the most common immediate needs. It is produced by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, a non-profit organization that advocates open knowledge, open data, transparency, and civil participation. The manual does not encourage asylum seekers to lie, but rather facilitates the communication between people speaking different languages, and see their human rights respected under international law. This conscious distortion of facts comes from a pro-government news outlet that supports ruling Fidesz party’s policies on migration. It is a deliberate attack against the billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, which is fully on Hungarian government’s agenda. This propaganda campaign against the funder of Open Society Foundation uses antisemitic conspiracy theories that end up affecting Jewish people in Hungary. “Since the businessman provides significant financial support to political causes and civil society initiatives,” states our Linguistic Self-Defence Guide, “the references to Soros often help evoke images of the rich and power-hungry Jew who engages in clandestine conspiratorial activities to manipulate, exploit, undermine, and destroy innocent communities.”
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United Kingdom – Antisemitic conspiracies about Soros on national front pages
Date of publication: 8 and 9 February 2018
Media outlets: The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail
About the sources: The Daily Telegraph is a British daily broadsheet with a conservative political alignment. The Daily Mail is a British tabloid and the second-biggest-selling daily newspaper in the UK, known for having a sensationalistic approach.
Authors: Nick Timothy, Kate McCann, Claire Newell and Luke Heighton for The Daily Telegraph
Headlines: "George Soros, the man who 'broke the Bank of England', backing secret plot to thwart Brexit" and “Butt out, Mr Soros. You can keep your tainted money”
Description of the antisemitic content: These two pieces refer to same news story on George Soros’s support to the “Best for Britain “campaign which is fighting to keep the UK open to EU membership. By using words such as “secret plot”, and “tainted money”, when referring to a Jewish billionaire, both articles are employing very common antisemitic discourses.
Myth Debunked: George Soros is a billionaire businessman of Jewish descent. By picturing a wealthy powerful Jewish businessman secretly pulling the strings of British politics, the two papers use very old antisemitic stereotypes. Soros is often at the centre of conspiracy theories which states that Jewish people own and control the world’s finance. Like it happens with members of the Rothschild family, being affluent and influential individual, the references to Soros can be misused and may strengthen the clichés that all Jews are rich and powerful. Unlike other media outlets and conspiracy theories website, especially in Hungary, the two British newspapers are not consciously promoting hatred against Jewish people. However, editors should be aware that they are using very specific antisemitic imagery, and therefore avoid it. As Rafael Behr explains on the Guardian, “nowhere does the Telegraph say that Soros is Jewish. But to a particular audience – to those whose antennae are attuned to the high-frequency signal – it goes without saying. That is the subtext, and often the actual text, in officially sanctioned, orchestrated attacks on Soros in Poland, Hungary (where he was born), and other eastern European countries.”
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Greece – Far-right politician accuses the EU to be anti-Hellenic, anti-Christian and racist against “legitimate residents” of the country
Date of publication: 26 February 2018
Media outlet: Dimokratia
About the source: Dimokratia is a conservative right-wing newspaper and classifies 3rd in national rankings of daily circulation.
Author: Failos Kranidiotis. He is the president of a far-right political party called New Right.
Headline: “We are giving us enough rope [to hang ourselves]: the racist policy against the legitimate inhabitants of the country” (Θα αγοράσουμε τη σχοινί μας. Η ρατσιστική πολιτική σε βάρος των νόμιμων κατοίκων της χώρας)
Description of the anti-refugee, anti-Muslim and antisemitic content: This opinion piece strongly argues against asylum seekers and refugees living in Greece. With very nationalistic tones, it uses divisive language, strong metaphors, and derogatory terms. Kranidiotis accuses asylum seekers and refugees to be the cause of the country’s high taxation that is putting many people on poverty. He creates division between those whom he calls “honest and hardworking” “legitimate residents of this country” (that is Greek people), and “Abdullahim” (that is a generic name to refer to refugees) “who comes along with his wives and children”. The far-right politician accuses the EU to be anti-Hellenic, anti-Christian, and racist against Greeks, because of the EU policies on refugees. Very strong words such as “settlers” who “colonise” neighbourhoods and “ruin Greek people” are used. The piece also has an antisemitic hint, when the author evokes the “long hand of the Soros system”.
Myth Debunked: Plenty are the bigotries included in this opinion piece. First of all, asylum seekers and refugees are blamed for Greece’s economic problems. Instead of blaming the current economic system and tax evasion, refugees are a used as a very handy scapegoat by many politicians who want to channel public anger and fears towards an easy target. The arrival of refugees is seen as an attack to “Christian and Hellenic national identity”, deliberately ignoring that what the author calls “Greek people” are not only people with different religious, cultural and ethnic background, but also a product – throughout history – of different civilisations with many cultural influences.
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