From a Greek politician proposing a fine for Muslims praying in public to a Belgian journalist equating terrorism with Islam, 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.
GREECE – Politician proposes fine for Muslims praying in public
Date of publication: 13 February 2019
Media Outlet: Market News, finance-focused news platform
Author: Thanos Tzimeros, political figure and president of the centre-Rrght Dimiourgia Ksana (Creation Now) party
Headline: “A full pavement – Α legal gap”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In this article, politician Thanos Tzimeros discusses the Islamic prayer, which he claims large groups of people are performing on the streets of Greece and around Europe. He states that whilst the photo used is from an unspecified European city, such activity also happens in Kotzia Square in Athens which, he claims ‘’ is constantly becoming more like Islamabad”. Tzimeros feels Muslims praying in public is unacceptable in Europe, and those obstructing pavements for prayer should be fined 500 Euros. He goes on to claim that a type of “religious police” are evermore present in “Islamic-occupied areas of Europe” and that they police what people eat, drink and wear, enforcing an “Islamic code.” He also claims that in ‘’their countries of origin’’ this type of religious police even kill in public those who disobey. On the topic of public religious rituals, mr. Tzimeros makes a clear distinction between what is acceptable for Islam and for Christians. He sees no problem with the Epitafios Easter ritual, when roads are closed off for this Christian Tradition, because as he put it: “it is different when the 80% of population participates in comparison to the 100 or 1000 believers.”
Thanos Tzimeros has expressed racist and hateful views on a raft of social issues such as immigration, Islam and Roma communities. He is very active on social media and has used these platforms to present his political views on Islam, which he describes as a violent faith, having claimed many times that most of Muslims are Jihadists.
Myth debunked: Mr. Tzimeros makes claims in his article that do not seem to be based on evidence. He provides poor evidence on the origin of the picture which, although seems to have been taken in Greece, he claims has been taken at the “centre of a European city”. On the topic of “religious police”, he only says that they already exist in Europe. These are very generic statements which seem to be used only to drive home a hateful theory, not to provide actual evidence. Furthermore, references to Athens “evolving into Islamabad” and “Muslim-occupied areas” in Europe are clear markers of the inflammatory narrative that Muslims have come to Europe to take over, a narrative often used by the far-Right.
The distinction Thanos Tzimeros makes in his article between Christian and Muslims is also interesting and it begs the questions; how many people is enough? Why is 80% of the population enough to close roads for a religious event, but 1000 people not enough to be allowed to pray on the pavement? The right to freedom of religious belief is a fundamental right, and there is no number or percentage attached to this right.
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BELGIUM – 7sur7 gives platform to antisemitism through images used in news report
Date of publication: 15 February 2019
Media Outlet: 7sur7, news outlet based in Brussels
Headline: “’Yes I'm a Hitler fan’: open investigation against Keerbergen's self-styled Nazi”
Description of the antisemitic content: This article is about a man, Georges Boeckstaens, in the Belgian village of Keerbergen, who has identified himself as a ‘Hitler fan.’ Boeckstaens has decorated his home with a variety of offensive Nazi symbols, many with the swastika. The article’s main image is of Boeckstaens performing the Sieg Heil salute, with a Nazi flag in the background, as well as a wooden swastika sign. The article also includes several photos of different Nazi ‘decorative elements’ to the house. In the piece, Boeckstaens is quoted saying: “Yes I describe myself as neo-Nazi, a Hitler fan.” The author of the piece informs the reader that the public prosecutor’s office in Leuven has opened a judicial inquiry against Boeckstaens, following a complaint. The complaint is based on Belgium’s law on Holocaust denial, passed on 23 March 1995, which makes it illegal to publically "deny, play down, justify or approve of the genocide committed by the German National Socialist regime during the Second World War".
Myth debunked: It is dangerous and unethical to use distressing images in a news report that offer no informational value. Images featuring Nazi symbolism and the Sieg Heil salute are extremely distressing, as they directly relate to the Holocaust and the terrors endured by Jewish people. In this case, the images are not newsworthy and offer no value to the public. It is ironic that the article talks about Belgium’s law on Holocaust denial whilst spreading these images; by giving a platform to such imagery, 7sur7 is helping spread Boeckstaens’ hateful Nazi rhetoric. This case could have been reported on professionally without using these images for example an image of just Boeckstaens’ profile could have been used instead. Mainstream media has a duty not to normalise hate, a duty which 7sur7 has failed in in this case.
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GERMANY – Framing school lessons about Islam as missionary work
Date of publication: 22 February 2019
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”), a far-right news website that defines itself as “Against the Mainstream, Pro-American, Pro-Israel, Against the Islamisation of Europe, For Fundamental Laws and Human Rights”
Headline: “Students of Islamic Studies: ‘We’re being forced to do it!’”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article depicts Islamic studies in German primary and secondary schools as a form of indoctrination of German children and youths. Not only do the authors criticise children being taught about Islam for longer than a “half-hour lesson” which “should suffice completely” – they go so far as to insinuate that the classes stealthily convert non-Muslim German children into Muslims. After describing how children are taught and asked to write down the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith), the authors suggestively state “one sentence suffices and one becomes a Muslim”. The authors also discuss the case of a religious studies teacher who showed her class a prayer mat and an Islamic prayer chain, telling the class that she enjoyed her occasional visits to mosques. For the authors “this is no longer a class, but missionary work”. The authors suggest that religious lessons about Islam should focus primarily on characteristics that clash with liberal values. The article holds that any other approach would convey “a rose-tinted feel-good image of Islam”. In doing so, the authors imply that Islam is an inherently dangerous ideology – this perpetuates the far-right idea of ‘the violent Muslim’.
Myth debunked: This article combines two conspiratorial fears of the German far-right: the alleged Islamisation of Europe and the supposed re-education of German children. According to the latter conspiracy narrative, the German public and especially the German youth are being brainwashed by the so-called elites who seek to replace supposed traditional German values with ones that are framed as being depraved. In a twist on the usual Islamisation conspiracy narrative, this article frames the Islamic studies classes as the re-education of German (Christian) children into Muslims. In a pluralistic society that upholds liberal values, religious education is an important part of the school curriculum to allow children to learn about the different religions present in their home country and around the world. The authors do not seem to take issue with religious studies generally speaking. Thus, their “concern” exposes their biased view on Islam in which it poses a danger to the German population.
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UK – Daily Mail runs article pushing dangerous ‘Islamification’ narrative
Date of publication: 15 February 2019
Media Outlet: Daily Mail, conservative British tabloid
Author: Richard Littlejohn
Headline: “RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: She's not the same little girl who ran away - and that's what worries me”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This is an opinion piece by Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn. It discusses the case of Shamima Begum, a topic widely reported on in the UK in February. Begum left the UK in 2015 to join the Islamic State and recently fled Baghuz, Syria (the Islamic State’s last slice of territory) heavily pregnant, looking to return home to the UK. The case has sparked much debate, and now with a new-born son, Begum has been stripped of her British citizenship.
The article starts with Littlejohn 'predicting' what Ms Begum's future will look like in Britain, if she returns: “After being fast-tracked up the housing waiting list, she will move into a council flat with her new baby, claiming an assortment of benefits and reinventing herself as a ‘yuman rites’ activist.” He further predicts that “worst case scenario, she straps half a pound of Semtex under her burka and detonates it on a Circle Line Tube train, blowing herself and dozens of other passengers to Kingdom Come.” Besides being extremely insensitive, this type of reporting is unnecessary and not based on any form of fact.
Littlejohn also repeatedly uses terminology that relate to the narrative of ‘Islamification’ in the UK. He refers to the "Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets" and says it is a "hotbed of fundamentalism". He guesses there are "more burkas per square yard in Bethnal Green than there are in Bangladesh" and claims that "streets have been patrolled by Islamist vigilantes". Later on he also refers to a "creeping Islamification" happening in Britain. This language is extremely damaging, and the claims are unfounded. It plays into the narrative that the UK is being 'swarmed' by Muslims and that their aim is to 'take over'.
Myth debunked: The myth of ‘Islamification’ in Britain is perpetuated throughout this article. ‘Islamification’, also known as ‘Islamisation’, is a theory that refers to “society's conversion to the religion of Islam”. It is often used when talking about Muslim communities, mostly from immigrant backgrounds, taking over indigenous cultures. In the context of the UK, ‘Islamification’ is oftentimes discussed along with supposed ‘Muslim no-go areas’ and the invasion of Sharia law into British policy. Littlejohn plays into this narrative by referring to Tower Hamlets as an “Islamic Republic”, and claiming that the streets of the borough are patrolled by “Islamists vigilantes” who accost any woman who is not dressed modestly. Moreover, Littlejohn directly refers to “creeping Islamification”; further playing into the narrative that this ‘Islamification’ is extremely frightening and happening without us being fully aware.
Tower Hamlets is a diverse borough home to the largest Bangladeshi population in the UK, making up 32% of the borough population. 38% of Tower Hamlet residents are Muslim, which makes it the highest proportion in the UK. 30% of the borough’s population identifies as Christian. These statistics in no way equate Tower Hamlets to an “Islamic Republic”; a term with negative connotations.
‘Islamification’ is based on the idea that Islam does not belong in Europe, and that only till very recently, it was completely foreign in Europe. This is false: the first mosque in the UK was built in 1899, and a Muslim community in the country has been present even before that. It is true that there has been an increase of Muslim people in the UK in recent years, especially with increased refugee movement; however, this does not equate to an ‘Islamification’ of the country. The theory of ‘Islamification’ is steeped in negativity, and is a classic case of scaremongering. Moreover, it is dangerous and can incite people to commit hate crimes. In recent research, it was found that 32% of people agreed with the false statement: ‘there are no go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.’ With anti-Muslim hatred being ever present in the UK, articles such as this which push the ‘Islamification’ narrative are dangerous and can have harmful effects.
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HUNGARY – Public service TV airs discriminatory interview about Muslims
Date of publication: 16 February 2019
Media Outlet: M1, public service television channel
Headline: “Immigrants are integrated into Muslim communities”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: During their weekend news report, M1 invited Tamás Dezső, an expert at the Migration Research Centre, to discuss the integration of Muslim immigrants. The Migration Research Institute is a Hungarian think-tank closely linked to the government. They have been known to distribute research skewed towards the government’s message on topics such as Islam and immigrants.
The news piece opened with a very quick and uninformed run-through of events: “Europe 2015 – Mass immigration starts from Syria and Africa because of war and danger. Then Europe 2016 - the terrorist threat increases, 2017- integration does not work, Europe 2018 – anti-Christian sentiments and anti-Semitism grows.” This opening sets the tone for the interview, during which Dezső claims there are no integrated Muslim communities in Europe, and that most Muslims belong to radical religious communities. During the interview, Dezső said: “Muslims look at Europe as a depraved society without religion. As the numbers of immigrants grow, Muslim communities will get stronger and stronger. There is competition between Muslim leaders and inclusive governments because such governments want to integrate immigrants into their societies.”
Myth debunked: This interview was aired on a public service media channel, which at its core should aim to inform and educate the public and be independent and non-partisan. Instead, the interview was extremely biased from the onset; the introduction linked several phenomenon in Europe in a causal manner, insinuating that immigrants and refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015 are the reason for the rise in antisemitism and anti-Christian sentiments. The interview itself failed to supply context for the claims Dezső was making and the interviewer made no effort to ask Dezső questions to counter his claims, making the whole piece extremely one-sided. The claims Dezső makes during the interview are highly inflammatory; stating that “Muslims look at Europe as a depraved society” without providing any evidence is not only unprofessional but sets a dangerous precedent. For such content to be aired on a public service media channel, which people look to for accurate and fair reporting, can be dangerous. Hungary is already dealing with dangerous anti-Muslim narratives, being spread by people as high up as the Prime Minister, and this type of content only furthers this trend.
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FRANCE – Newspaper claims Muslim Brotherhood win over running hijab
Date of publication: 16 April 2019
Media Outlet: Atlantico, neo-conservative online newspaper
Headline: “Storm over the running hijab: Decathlon – 0, Muslim Brotherhood - 1”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This piece discusses a recent case in France when sport store Décathlon received a major backlash for offering a hijab for running on its website. Many politicians, mainly from the Right, denounced the product, claiming it is contrary to the French concept "laïcité.” Décathlon also received a lot of hateful comments on social media and through customer service channels, some of which they shared on their Twitter account. Some claimed that the running hijab was a manifestation of the Islamisation of France and a Muslim Brotherhood tactic.
The article is based on an interview with Naëm Bestandji, who is presented as a feminist and secular activist. The interviewer takes a clear stance against Décathlon, and the questions asked are extremely skewed. Some of the questions asked include: “Regarding the controversy around Decathlon and the" running Hijab ", and considering that the strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood is to generate points of tension within societies, can we not see this issue as a case study?" and “Would it not be more important to denounce the stance or useful idiots of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than to attack Décathlon, which is the symptom?" Bestandji responds to these questions in a similar inflammatory way, claiming that “Islamists are obsessed with sex, from morning till night and until the day of their death” and that Décathlon offering a running hijab is a sign of the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged increasing control in Europe.
Myth debunked:The Muslim Brotherhood is a “transnational Sunni Islamist movement that seeks to implement sharia (Islamic law) under a global caliphate.” They are often referred to when people, particularly from the far-Right, claim that Islam is ‘taking over’ in Europe. In this case, it is clear that Atlantico is set on the idea that the running hijab from Décathlon is a Muslim Brotherhood tactic, and they leave no room for any counter argument to this idea or balancing information in their piece. Besides the headline, which clearly professes that the Muslim Brotherhood has ‘won’ in this case, the questions asked by the interviewer are extremely skewed. The questions are asked in a way that gives the interviewee no room to discuss anything apart from the Muslim Brotherhood’s supposed involvement in this case, making it seem like this theory is the only probable one. Overall, the piece is very biased, and suggests there is no alternative but to blame the Muslim Brotherhood in this case. This is of course untrue; there is no proof that the Muslim Brotherhood had any involvement with this case. The article and its assertions play directly into the false, dangerous and inflammatory narrative that Muslims are aiming to ‘take over’ Europe.
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BELGIUM – Journalist equates Islam with terrorism
Date of publication: 25 February 2019
Media Outlet: Doorbraak.be, opinion website
Author: Johan Sanctorum
Headline: “Deny and delay until they die”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article criticizes the Belgian government’s approach to dealing with terrorism, and the lack of media coverage around it. It focusses specifically on the case of Philippe Vandenberghe, who has been on a hunger strike for over two weeks to protest against the Belgian government’s treatment of terrorist attack victims. He specifically critiques the lacklustre support to victims by the government’s health insurance provider. In the piece, the author Johan Sanctorum makes a direct comparison between terrorism and Islam; insinuating that terrorism is an element of the Muslim religion. He states: “And that's how we come to the point: the government refuses to see Islam as a risk, as an objective war hazard against which one must and can arm itself.” In this statement, the author leaps from discussing terrorism directly to Islam, claiming that the religion is dangerous and that we must protect ourselves from it. Sanctorum also claims that victims of terrorist attacks are left out of the media spotlight, because we are not allowed to point out “violent religious ideology that belongs to the subsidized religions in Belgium.”
Myth debunked: Claiming that terrorist attacks and Islam as a religion are one and the same sets a dangerous precedent, and is incorrect. It is true that there have been terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremists in Belgium, and in other parts of the world, but this small minority of extremists does not represent Islam as a whole. It is often the case that Muslims as a whole are blamed for terrorist attacks carried out by extremists; however, this treatment rarely extends to other religions or political beliefs. For example, white shooters in the United States are often referred to as lone wolves, and their religious and political beliefs often ignored. The author transitions from using terminology related to terrorism to that referring to Islam without any form of explanation, signalling that it is all the same. To further suggest arming oneself against Islam is a distressing statement, and it is this type of language that motivates people to commit hate crimes.
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