From a national news channel broadcasting an anti-Muslim speech to a media outlet smearing an opposition parties’ candidates for their stance on migration, these September 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 – Far-Right Belgian Blog Takes Strong Anti-Muslim and Xenophobic Editorial Stance
Media Outlet: ReactNieuws, alternative news blog
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: ReactNieuws is a Belgian news blog with a clear far-right stance. In July of this year, GTTO partner EUJS filed a complaint against ReactNieuws for spreading misinformation in a news article with clear xenophobic and anti-Muslim tropes. Since then, ReactNieuws has continued to publish articles that focus largely on immigrants and Muslims, using editorial techniques to paint them in a negative and hateful light. Some of the headlines which have graced the front page of ReactNieuws this month include: “Asylum seekers everywhere: invasion continues, lax Belgium remains open country” and “‘I am a Muslim, Allah Akbar, I must kill Christians!’” ReactNieuws claims they are exposing the truth to counter years of the public being told lies by the media about immigration and multiculturalism. They are, according to their slogan, proudly “strongly polarising.” However, the content that ReactNieuws publishes is beyond polarising; it uses far-right narratives and tropes which paint an unfair and untrue picture of immigrants and Muslims in Europe. Besides their website, their biggest reach is on Facebook, where they have over 12,000 followers.
Myth debunked: Many of the articles on the ReactNieuws website follow the narrative of the Great Replacement theory, which is often used by the far-right. The Great Replacement theory is the idea that “‘western’ identity is under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-European or non-white countries, resulting in the replacement of white European individuals via demographics.” We can see these ideas echoed in many of ReactNieuws’ articles. In an article published this month, the author claimed that “The disappearance of our people is not fate, it is a political choice” and referenced a supposed “asylum invasion.” The Great Replacement theory is an incredibly dangerous tool which has been used by several terrorists, including Anders Breivik and the Christchurch attacker, to justify their horrific actions.
The language used repeatedly on the ReactNieuws platform, along with the far-right tropes and narratives, can be regarded as a radicalisation tool. Looking at some of the reactions on Facebook, we see ReactNieuws’ audience calling for the deportation of all immigrants, and claiming that all Muslim immigrants are dangerous to Belgian society. ReactNieuws’ editorial style will continue to foment these ideas, which can only lead to dangerous realities.
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GERMANY – PI-News article claims cultural superiority of the West over Muslim countries
Date of publication: 3 September 2019
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”) is 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: “Backwardness of the Islamic world: cultural enrichment from Muslim immigration cannot be proven”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article claims to be a response to “mainstream pro-Islam campaigns” and to “false news, such as the claim that million-fold Muslim migration results in cultural enrichment”. After stating that “Muslim men are often characterised by archaic misogynistic attitudes, a widespread hatred of ‘unbelievers’ in Islam, and contempt for the West,” the reporter tries to prove the “backwardness of Islamic cultures”. He does so by claiming that no Nobel Prize winners for physics, chemistry and medicine originate from a Muslim country and that a comparison of patent applications across different nation states reflects negatively on Islamic countries. He also asserts that many of the countries ranked ‘not free’ by Reporters without Borders have a Muslim majority. The language used is racist, dehumanising and fear-mongering, for example, “two million single men of military age”, “never-ending immigration stream” and “exploding birth rates among Muslims”.
Myth debunked: This article fuels hatred against Muslims through distortions and discriminatory language. “Two million single men of military age”, for example, is not only false, but the author deliberately picks provocative words to evoke the idea of an invasion of violent young men. The statement that Muslims hate the West and people of different religions is further fabrication that perpetuates ‘othering’ and fosters misunderstanding. His critique of sexist attitudes among Muslim men fails to acknowledge the history and endurance of patriarchal structures and values in predominantly Christian and atheist societies. The author also depicts the “West” as culturally superior to the “Orient”. He neglects to acknowledge the role of Arab-Muslim culture in shaping contemporary Europe, from the impact of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, to the legacy of Al-Andalus on Spanish architecture, art and food. Countries with Islamic traditions continue to exert a positive influence in Europe, shaping gastronomy, film, literature, philosophy and music. It is false to say that Muslim countries have not provided any Nobel laureates in Science. Ahmed Zewail and Aziz Sancar, from Egypt and Turkey respectively, won Nobel prizes in Chemistry while Mohammad Abdus Salam, from Pakistan, won for a Nobel prize in Physics, and numerous others have won in the fields of Literature and Peace. Even if there were no Muslim Nobel prize winners, this would not mean that Islamic culture is not as rich or sophisticated as Europe’s. By focusing exclusively on Nobel prizes, patents and freedom of expression rankings, the author presents a narrow, Eurocentric understanding of culture and science.
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BELGIUM – DH.be depicts all Salafists as violent
Date of publication: 11 September 2019
Media Outlet: DH.be, La Dernière Heure, a French-language daily newspaper published in Belgium
Headline: “In the Netherlands, in Salafist schools students learn that non-Muslims deserve the death penalty”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article claims that Salafist schools in the Netherlands are causing concern because they teach pupils to “refuse to be part of Dutch society” and that “non-Muslim people deserve the death penalty”. This emerged from a joint investigation by the newspaper NRC and the TV show "Nieuwsuur". The article also states that according to the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM) in Belgium, several state departments in charge of security “have kept an eye on Salafist members” for years. However, the article continues, OCAM believes that the situation is less worrying in Belgium than in the Netherlands, “where there are indeed mosques clearly claiming to be Salafist”. The article mentions that “state security figures from April show that our country is home to hundreds of Salafist organizations (mosques, religious centres, schools)”, but that “there is no data on how much the phenomenon is growing but the number seems to be increasing.”
Myth debunked: This article presents a superficial and misleading understanding of Salafism, by regarding it as a movement based on hatred towards the West. In fact, Salafism is an orthodox Sunni reform movement that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, encouraging emulation of the first followers of the Prophet Muhammad, the “salaf” or predecessors. According to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online, this movement emphasises the “restoration of Islamic doctrines to pure form, adherence to the Quran and Sunnah, rejection of the authority of later interpretations, and maintenance of the unity of ummah.” The article by DH.be wrongly depicts all Salafists as terrorists. Many European governments too generally see Salafists through the lens of counter-terrorism. This is a distorted view of this movement. While some terrorists do identify as Salafi, anthropological fieldwork in the Salafi movement in the Netherlands, including an article by Dr. Ineke Roex, shows that important sections of the Salaf movement distance themselves from violent extremism in Europe and respect democratic authority. Rather than considering Salafism as whole as a security threat, the article should have stated that a specific school in the Netherlands was found disseminating violent ideas, but that it is not representative of all the Salafist schools. The generalisations in this article misinforms readers and spread fears about Muslims who belong to this group which contributes to their stigmatisation. The Get the Trolls Out! partner in Belgium, ENORB, has submitted a complaint to DH.be requesting significant edits to the article.
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FRANCE – National news channel broadcast anti-Muslim speech by far-right commentator
Date of broadcasting: 28 September 2019
Media Outlet: LCI (La Chaîne Info) is a French free-to-air news channel
Author: Eric Zemmour
Description of the anti-Muslim content: During his opening speech at the “Convention of the Right”, the far-right commentator Eric Zemmour violently attacked Muslims as “migrant colonisers” and compared Islam to Nazism. The speech was broadcast in its entirety by LCI thereby spreading anti-Muslim invectives to millions of viewers. The political meeting was organised by the far-right magazine “L’incorrect” and the neo-fascist association “Cercle Audace” and the conservative young political movement “Racines d’Avenir”. It was used to launch the political return of Marion Maréchal, niece of Marine Le Pen, who is the current President of the political party National Rally (previously named National Front). Zemmour said that “the issues aggravated by immigration are exacerbated by Islam”. He also referred to Islamic garments as symbols of military occupation: “In the streets, veiled women and men in djellabah are a form of propaganda […], an Islamisation of the streets, like uniforms of an occupying army reminding to the losers their submission. Instead of the past triptych “immigration, integration, assimilation” there is “invasion, colonization, occupation”. To compound the parallel to Nazism, the French commentator quoted some (unspecified) authors who, in the 1930s, compared the then emerging Nazism to Islam saying that “no one criticised them for stigmatizing Islam. “At a push”, Zemmour continued, “many thought that they were exaggerating slightly, and some said ‘sure, Nazism is sometimes strict and intolerant, but comparing it to Islam is way too much”.
Myth debunked: Eric Zemmour is a well-known Islamophobic commentator in France. Earlier this month, he was sentenced by a French court for incitement to religious hatred against Muslims. By broadcasting his speech in full on national television, the broadcasting company LCI, the second largest in terms of audience in France, not only spread anti-Muslim hatred but also legitimised it this point of view as valid And worth the air time. Several hundreds of viewers submitted complaints to the CSA (the French Audiovisual Council) against LCI for giving a platform to racist ideas. LCI issued a press release only partially admitting the mistake: “In hindsight, a speech without contradiction is not in line with LCI’s usual format. LCI’s format is a long debate with opposite and contradictory points of views. Yesterday, there was a contradiction and deconstruction of Eric Zemmour speech, but it came after. Broadcasting the speech by itself is not the appropriate format of our channel”. A reaction came from different journalists’ associations: the LCI journalists’ association published a statement dissociating with directors’ decision, and reporters at Le Figaro (newspaper where Zemmour is a columnist) sent a letter to their editors-in-chief saying “the journalists of Le Figaro, in their great majority, do not want to be associated to these provocations. The SOJ asks urgently the editors to stop this ambiguous situation”. On a legal front, the public prosecutor's office in Paris opened an investigation on racial public insults and incitement to racial hatred. Depicting Muslims as an army of colonizers, Zemmour incites hatred and discrimination against the Muslim community in France. He strategically reverses the power dynamic between a religious minority that is systematically discriminated against and a majority that rule the country, between a (former) colonial empire and its (former) colonies.
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UK – The Times Seeks to ‘Expose’ the RNLI by Employing an Anti-Muslim Narrative
Date of publication: 14 September 2019
Media Outlet: The Times, British daily national newspaper
Author: David Brown
Title: “RNLI funding burkinis for Africans while cutting jobs”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article by The Times journalist David Brown seeks to ‘expose’ the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) for funding overseas initiatives. The article mainly focuses on burkini swimsuits, and how some of the RNLI’s funds go towards teaching Muslim women in Tanzania how to swim. It is clear from the start of the article that the author finds this outrageous, claiming that the RNLI “has been accused of diverting donations to give burkinis to Muslim women in Africa while laying off staff in the UK.” There is a strong accusatory tone here; as if to say that because women in Africa are getting burkini’s, people in the UK are losing their jobs. Further on in the article, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen is quoted on the matter as saying: “While these causes are no doubt worthy they are more suitable for support from our international aid budget than the RNLI.” He goes on to say that the RNLI “should be sticking to its core values.” Again, it is clear here that Bridgen, Brown and The Times do not see teaching Muslim women how to swim as fitting with the ‘core values’ of this organisation. The story was later picked up by the Mail on Sunday, using virtually the same narrative.
Initially, in response to the article, people expressed their intention (through platforms like Twitter) of pulling their donations from the RNLI because they felt that their ‘values’ were not being embodied by the organisation. However, also in response to this, many people showed their support for the RNLI and their work, and donations to the organisation increased massively. There was much discussion around The Times’ article and subsequent response on Twitter, with one user explaining: “Just made a donation to the @RNLI because all lives matter. And deliberately hateful journalism designed to divide can't win.”
Myth debunked: The main issue with this piece is framing. Firstly, it claims to ‘expose’ the RNLI's work abroad, which is laughable, as the RNLI clearly states and explains its project work overseas on their website for all to read. The RNLI has always been transparent about their international work, which seeks to address the silent epidemic of drowning. The two focus countries of this work are Bangladesh and Tanzania, which are both heavily affected by deaths by drowning. One of the projects funded in Tanzania is the ‘Panje Project’, which in part works with local women to help them be more confident in the water. As some of these women are Muslim, they are provided with burkinis in order to take part in the activities. This is the focal point of The Times’ article: Muslim women in Tanzania learning how to swim and doing so in a religious garment. The message of the article is clear: it is unacceptable for a British organisation like the RNLI to use funds to buy burkini’s, especially when jobs in the UK are being cut. However, there is no correlation between the two: they are completely separate areas of RNLI’s work. It is a far-reaching claim to base a whole article on, and begs the question: what was Brown’s real aim with this piece?
This is not the first time The Times has published a piece with anti-Muslim undertones. A recent report looked at The Times’ history with anti-Muslim reporting, detailing numerous examples over the past years. The report concluded that “The errors described in this report are in our view breaches of journalistic standards that require full and formal investigation with the possibility of disciplinary action.” It is clear that The Times needs to properly analyse its editorial policy and tackle the problems at hand. An article like this shows a lack of journalistic values and is on the brink of sensationalist reporting.
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HUNGARY – Propaganda media smears opposition parties’ candidates for their stance on migration
Date of publication: 21 September 2019
Media outlet: Magyar Nemzet is a daily print and online news portal which is part of the Fidesz party’s media empire known as the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA)
Headline: “Opposition candidate in Sopron opposed the [Southern Hungary’s] border lock-down”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article focuses on the pro-migration stance of several opposition parties’ candidates who are running for mayor in the upcoming local elections on 13 October. It puts together old quotes on migration by candidates which date back to 2015 and 2016, the period known as the “refugee crisis”. The aim is to show how dangerous these candidates are for the Hungarian society if elected. Norbert Varga, candidate for mayor in Sopron, is criticised for having said that immigrants are not a threat to Christian societies and that there should not have been a border fence to stop refugees reaching Hungary. The article states that most migrants in Germany were not able to find jobs because they were illiterate and he belittles Varga for saying that Syrian refugees were highly educated on account of the excellent education system in Syria. “Sopron is not the only city where opposition politicians have made shocking statements about immigration,” the article continues quoting other candidates who are in favour of a European quota system for refugees. The article reports that the spokesperson of the ruling party, Fidesz, called all opposition parties “the immigration party” and warned of the disastrous consequences of their election: “Against the will of the Hungarian people, they would demolish the fence, dismantle the Hungarian border guard, accept the resettlement quota, and suggest that migrants be distributed to Hungarian cities as well.”
Myth Debunked: According to the independent online newspaper Index, 18 of the top 20 daily newspapers inHungary are owned by Lőrinc Mészáros, childhood friend of Viktor Orbán and former mayor of Felcsút (the Prime Minister's hometown). One by one, new managements close to Orbán have taken over the most prominent Hungarian news television channels and news websites. This concentration of media power into the hands of a pro-government oligarchs has cemented the dominance of Fidesz party’s political agenda in shaping the public discourse. The Hungarian government has constantly used migration to fuel fears around migration, depicting refugees as a fundamental threat to society in terms of security and Christian identity. According to a 2018 Pew survey, this has left a deep and lasting mark in the population: 72 percent of Hungarians want fewer or no migrants at all; 73 percent consider immigrants to be a burden “because they take jobs and social benefits”, and 66 percent believe that immigrants want to be distinct from society and increase the risk of terrorism. But Fidesz’s hardline anti-immigration campaigns, constantly echoed by propaganda media, do not match with the actual numbers of asylum requests. A general decrease of refugees arriving in Europe, as well as the construction of border fences and the enactment of legal amendments to reduce non-EU immigration in Hungary, has caused a dramatic reduction in the number of asylum requests in the country. The total applications dropped from 29,432 in 2016 to just 280 in the first quarter of 2018. But pro-government media keep their anti-immigration stance as strong as ever.
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GREECE – Well-Known Greek Politician Given Platform for Xenophobic and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
Date of publication: 14 September 2019
Media Outlet: In.gr, one of the most read online news platforms in Greece
Author: Andreas Andrianopoulos
Headline: “There are no further limits”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: This piece was written by Andreas Andrianopoulos, a well-known figure in Greek politics. He served as a minister during the 90’s and was the mayor of Piraeus, the major city port of Attica. In this article, Mr. Andrianopoulos shared his views on immigration, commenting on recent developments in immigration in Greece over the last few months. The main focus was the increase of immigrants coming to Greece. Mr. Andrianopoulos commented: “Τhey are all Muslims. On the contrary, it is Christians who are the ones facing persecution back in their countries. For them everyone turns a blind eye. Why then do they come to the West? It is because the Quran obliges it in 93 of its verses. To conquer the ‘infidels’ from inside. This is what Islamic State claimed in 2015. Since then we have observed endless flows of immigrants.” He then claims that most Muslim migrants are young and ready to go to combat, ''undermining our status quo''. The article ends with a series of options proposed by the author, among which is a complete direction change in border control. He ends claiming: “If Europe refuses [a change in border control], let it have them [immigrants]. We won't feel bad about this.”
Myth debunked: This opinion piece by Mr. Andrianopoulos uses strong anti-Muslim and xenophobic language. He describes all immigrants as Muslim people who come to Europe with violent intentions. He describes their arrival to Europe as an ‘invasion, this kind of rhetoric contributes to cementing stereotypes and anxiety in Greek society about Muslim people and communities. Mr. Andrianopoulos tries to equate the intentions of immigrants coming to Europe with those of Islamic State, essentially comparing all Muslim immigrants with terrorists. This is not only extremely demeaning and false, but also dangerous. Mr. Andrianopoulos has chosen to share these views during challenging times in terms of migration. Instead of progressing the dialogue, this article instead fuels citizens' fears by claiming that all Muslim immigrants are terrorists. The narrative used by Mr. Andrianopoulos is unfortunately not new to Greece or indeed Europe. The continued hateful rhetoric serves to exacerbate an uneasy situation and risks fragmenting social cohesion in the country.
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