From anti-Muslim fear-mongering on the media coverage of Eid al-Adha to refugees being called "irritating dust", these August 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.
GERMANY – PI News article dehumanises Muslims when criticising their ritual slaughter
Date of publication: 13 August 2019
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”) is a far-right news website that defines itself as “Against the Main-stream, Pro-American, Pro-Israel, Against the Islamisation of Europe, For Fundamental Laws and Human Rights”
Headline: “‘A blessed Festival of the Sacrifice’: Federal Foreign Office congratulates animal abusers’”
Examination of the anti-Muslim content: The article criticises Germany’s Federal Foreign Office for wishing all Muslims a blessed Festival of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) and a peaceful pilgrimage. Specifically, the article takes issue with the ritual slaughter practiced by Muslims, arguing that it makes the animals “slowly bleed out under hellish pain.” And while the article does concede in the beginning that one could criticise the Jewish population for a similar practice as well as many Germans that also commit cruelties towards animals, the article still chooses to focus solely on Islamic ritual slaughter.
To justify its anti-Muslim rhetoric, the article links to a website of the German animal welfare organisation Deutscher Tierschutzbund e.V.. The article on their website does indeed criticise ritual slaughter as cruel but only when carried out without anaesthetisation. Moreover, the animal welfare organisation even makes a point of highlighting that “most Muslims in Germany have long accepted electric stunning” as a means to anaesthetise animals before slaughter, thus preventing the animals from experiencing pain. However, the PI News article omits this piece of information and in-stead frames all Muslim ritual slaughter as invariably painful and gruesome – and in doing so, it warps the original standpoint for its own purposes into a piece of disinformation.
More importantly, the article makes use of highly derogatory language that is not only insulting but also paints Muslims in general as barbaric and bloodthirsty. For instance, it calls Islam a “fascistic religion […] which essentially wishes to put its religious law […] above that of the state” and a “religion hostile to the state” – thus implying that Islam is inherently anti-democratic and can never be conciliated with Germany’s political or cultural landscape. It also calls Muslims “torturers” and claims that the greetings by the Federal Foreign Office posit a form of congratulating Islam on its “spiritual animal abuse”. The article further reiterates this point by stating that animals “have to suffer terribly” under Muslims. Furthermore, in reference to the Federal Foreign Office using gender-neutral language, the article criticises that the message is “cruel, merciless, and indifferent towards the tormenting of animals, yet sensitive in the language towards the torturers – the Muslims”. The article ends with its own message directed at Muslims: “Dear Muslims, dear animal abusers, dear torturers, dear uncompassionate people, dear devils. There is a German proverb that also fits your cruelty, a cruelty that has to take place annually for a non-existent, imaginary devil-god to create spiritual wellbeing: ‘Never torment an animal for fun, because it feels pain just like anyone.’ We do not wish you a ‘blessed Festival of the Sacrifice’ because that would be an oxymoron”.
References to “devils” and to a “devil-god” serve to dehumanise the Muslim population. This article is almost cartoonish in its anti-Muslimism which suggests that the concern for animals is merely an excuse to spread hatred against Muslims.
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UK – BBC Panorama Falsely Claims Women in Documentary Make ‘IS Salute’
Date of publication: 5 August 2019
Media Outlet: BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), British public service broadcaster
Title: “Stacey Meets the IS Brides”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: For the BBC program Panorama, British TV presenter Stacey Dooley visited camps in northern Syria and spoke to women who left their own countries to join the Islamic State group. In one of the scenes, which saw women raising their index finger, Dooley said: "As we left the camp, we saw women raising their index finger in an IS salute.” The clip was aired ahead of the full episode as promotional material, and was shown on large national platforms, including Sunday's BBC News at Ten. Several news platforms also picked up the content, with The Mirror and The Sun both publishing pieces which stated that the hand gesture was IS symbol.
The BBC received much criticism on the clip, with many people calling out the inaccuracy of Dooley's statement. In response, the BBC apologised and removed the clip from the documentary. News outlets subsequently also edited their content to remove the claim.
Myth debunked: In Islam the raising of the index finger signifies the Tawhīd, which refers to the indivisible oneness of God. It is a gesture often used to express the unity of God, and it represents the concept of monotheism in Islam. For many, it is one of the most important gestures of faith in the religion and it is part of Islamic prayer. The hand gesture has been used by Islamic State militants in the past, in propaganda material for example. However, this is not where the hand gesture originates from, and the raised index finger is used by many Muslims around the world as part of their practicing faith. It is for this reason that Dooley’s comments were out of context, and derogatory to the many Muslims around the world who raise their index finger as nothing more than an expression of faith and prayer. Viewers of the program who do not know the background and importance of the raised index finger and Tawhīd could make rash assumptions about the gesture, and falsely link those of the Muslim faith with IS.
In their apology, the BBC said: “We wrongly described a gesture made by women filmed in a Kurdish controlled detention camp in northern Syria as an 'IS salute’. While IS have attempted to adopt this for their own propaganda purposes, for accuracy we should have been clear that many people of Muslim faith use this gesture to signify the oneness of Allah. We apologise for this error and have removed this description from the footage.” With more background and explanation in the documentary, the clip would have been no issue. It was the lack of context that resulted in a unfair and potentially vulnerable situation for Muslims. A large media organisation like the BBC, the public broadcaster of the UK, should have been aware of this before airing the clips nationwide.
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HUNGARY – Anti-Muslim fear-mongering dominates pro-government media outlets’ reporting on Eid al-Adha
Date of publication: 22 and 12 August 2019
Media outlets: PestiSrácok.hu and Origo.hu are two pro-government news sites that serve the interests of ruling Fidesz party by appealing to the far-right
Headline: “There are so many Muslims in Brussels that it is impossible to forbid cruel sacrifice” and “V4NA: Muslims kill animals on the street in Western Europe because of a religious holiday”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: For Hungarian pro-government media outlets, Eid al-Adha, the Islamic “Festival of Sacrifice” celebrated worldwide, has been an occasion to vilify Muslims in Europe. An article on Pesti Srácok starts by explaining the origins of the festival and how it honours the willingness of prophet Ibrahim/Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. The second part of the article, however, changes direction towards an anti-Muslim rant that puts together narratives of invasion and terrorism with a sarcastic tone. “Belgium has decided to ban this fine tradition (according to Flanders and Walloon law, the animal must first be shocked with electricity before it can be cut), but Brussels is an exception to the law. The reason for this is, of course, clear: since there are so many Muslims in the Belgian capital, they are in fact the axis of community culture.” The article ends saying: “By the way, in Molenbeek, 90 percent of the population is Muslim, but the area became truly famous for hiding for months Salah Abdeslam, one of the terrorists of the 2015 attack in Paris. There are 51 organizations in the district that are in direct contact with Islamist-terrorist organizations.” Another pro-government news site, Origo, uses a report by V4NA, a news agency that the Orbán administration recently established in London. The article focuses on the “sight of bloody carcasses” which is said to be “very disturbing to many in the Netherlands, France and Italy”. The report goes on to list the tweets and the Facebook posts of European far-right leaders against the Islamic traditional slaughter practice.
Myth Debunked: Eid al-Adha is a Muslim Festival that marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage and commemorates the intended sacrifice by prophet Ibrahim to God. The story, which is an integral part of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, tells that Ibrahim was ready to sacrifice his son to God when asked to prove his obedience. Seeing evidence of loyalty in Ibrahim, God intervenes and gives a sheep to kill instead. To celebrate this, Muslim families worldwide slaughter an animal following the Islamic law. The halal method prescribes that the animal’s throat, food-tract and jugular veins must be cut in one stroke of a sharp knife and that blood must be drained out of the carcass. Contrary to what many assume, however, most animals killed by halal methods in Europe are stunned before slaughter. While it is valid to question the non-stunning method to improve animal welfare standards or to advocate against the killing of animals for ethical reasons, this should not be used to for anti-Muslims fear-mongering. Further, Pesti Srácok and Origo websites have never previously campaigned for improved animal welfare in industrial-scale livestock farms. The concerns of the propaganda media about the animals’ suffering, or for the Europeans who allegedly have to see these slaughters on the street, are an excuse to attack Muslims. The articles published on Pesti Srácok and Origo feed the Hungarian government’s narrative that Muslims are barbarians, violent, and backward, and should not be welcomed in Europe. Contrary to the Fidesz-aligned publications, independent Hungarian news sites such as 444.hu and Népzava have reported the same religious event but in a journalistically professional way that does not exploit the growing Islamophobia.
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Belgium – Website with Clear Anti-Muslim Editorial Stance Runs Hateful Quotes Without Context
Date of publication: 25 August 2019
Media Outlet: Doorbraak.be, Belgian opinion website
Author: Pieter Bauwens
Headline: “Flanders Flemish, Europe European”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article, which ran as a piece on the Doorbraak.be website, is about the 18th annual IJzerwake event in Belgium. The IJzerwake is an organisation that unites radical Flemish nationalists who are striving for Flemish independence. The annual event is organised to commemorate the victims of the two World Wars, but is also largely a place for political figures to share their views on Flemish independence and other current topics. Many of the IJzerwake members are from far-right political party Vlaams Belang. The chairman of IJzewake, Wim de Wit, made some very sensationalist and hateful comments during his speech at this year’s event. He claimed that “in principle, freedom of expression still applies, except when it comes to Muslims, Negroes, holibi’s [homosexual, lesbian and bisexual individuals], Transgender people, transvestites, Gypsies, feminists and certain politicians.” He further stated that Muslims in Europe live in a “parallel society” and claimed that Muslim men in Europe are able to get away with the mistreatment of women, as our freedom of religion laws allow them to mentally and physically mistreat women. Wim de Wit is quoted in the Doorbraak.be without any critique, and the article is framed in a manner which suggests that the author and publication agree with this stance.
Myth debunked: The issue here is the lack of a critical journalistic approach to the IJzerwake event, and more specifically Wim de Wit’s comments. The role of a journalist is not only to share news with society, but also to do so in an ethical manner. This often means that more than one source is used in a news piece, and alternative points of view are shared. None of this took place in the Doorbraak.be article, in which only Wim de Wit is repeatedly quoted. Nowhere in the article does anyone else get a view or platform to share their opinion or knowledge on the matter. This frames the article to seem as if this is the only truth on this topic, and that there is nothing further to discuss. Islam and its followers, particularly the males, are evil and aggressive, and ‘we’ are not allowed to criticise them: that it the conclusion one draws upon reading this piece.
This piece of unethical reporting is not something new for the Doorbraak.be platform. Earlier this year, we reported on an incident where the website ran an article which equated Islam with terrorism. Furthermore, the website is now running an advertisement for its new publication, titled: “For Freedom, so Against Islamisation.” According to the book description: “In our non-Muslim, Western society, things happen every day that indicate that we are being Islamised and Islamising, the result of both conscious and unconscious words and deeds of Muslims and non-Muslims.” It is clear that Doorbraak.be has a strong anti-Muslim stance; this article is another example of Doorbraak.be's hateful rhetoric.
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GREECE Vice-president of Police Union Federation calls refugees “irritating dust”
Date of publication: 26 August 2019
Media Outlet: SKAI TV
Author: Stavros Balaskas, Vice President of the Greek Federation of Police Officers (POASY)
Description of the anti-refugee content: Appearing on a morning TV show on SKAI TV, a prominent media outlet in Greece, Stavros Balaskas, vice-president of the Greek Federation for Police Officers (POASY) was interviewed about security issues in Athens. The focus of the interview was a police operation, launched on that the same day, which left evicted many migrants and refugees who were currently housed in abandoned buildings in the neighbourhood of Exarcheia, a place in central Athens well-known for clashes between police and leftist, anti-authoritarian and anarchist groups. Asked to comment on the decision by the Ministry of Citizen Protection to intervene in the area, Balaskas said: “a finger switched on a silent and technologically new vacuum cleaner, the police, which will gradually suck all the garbage from Exarcheia”. Perplexed by his answer, the journalist asked whether by “garbage” he was referring to cases of criminality occurring in Exarcheia and not people. Balaskas then responded that his comments do not explicitly refer to migrants and refugees which he described as an ‘’irritating dust’’ but they mostly concern other left-leaning groups which he continued describing as the “real garbage”. Balaskas’s comments created a wave of reactions by political parties and civil society organisations, and an official administrative inquiry has begun.
Myth debunked: Stavros Balaskas uses highly inflammatory language when referring to refugees and leftist groups that have already and will be evacuated from the buildings in Exarcheia. Words such as “dust” to be “sucked out with a vacuum cleaner” are dehumanising and discriminatory. In recent history, dehumanisation has offered a moral justification to the perpetration of violence. Further, the description of some groups as “contaminated” blames minorities for the chronic challenges facing Greek society. This conduct is even more serious when it comes from a person in a position of power, such as Vice President of the Greek Federation for Police Officers, against a vulnerable group. The people living in the squats that the police raided and cleared at the end of August were primarily refugees and refugee families. The squatting of abandoned buildings offer an alternative to the poor living conditions of official refugee camps, hotspots and detention centres. In addition, although not always explicitly expressed, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate are closely related to anti-refugee sentiments in Greece. Across Europe more broadly, anti-migrant Islamophobia marginalises Muslim refugees on the basis of a presumed incompatibility with “Western values”.
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