From a controversy on secularism in France over the Muslim headscarf to a popular lifestyle magazine spreading well-established antisemitic conspiracy theories, these October 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 – Removal of pork from children’s menu again used as a sign German culture is being threatened
Date of publication: 28 October 2019
Media Outlet: Junge Freiheit ("Young Freedom") is a German weekly newspaper that lies between national-conservative and far-right on the media spectrum, often catering to narratives of the so-called "New Right"
Headline: “Consideration for Muslims: Hardly any pork left in Düsseldorf's kindergarten”
Examination of the anti-Muslim content: The article reports on a Düsseldorf kindergarten’s reduction in the provision of pork meals, implying that Muslim customs are threatening German culture. The main problem in this article is its framing of the issue. While it does not use sensationalist or overtly anti-Muslim language and while it does report the nuances of this story later in the text, it frames the issue as a problem and one that is caused by Muslims.
For instance, the sub-heading of the article speaks of “cultural self-abandonment” – insinuating a kind of weak-willed subservience to Islam – thus presenting the issue of a reduction in the provision of pork meals in kindergartens as problematic from the onset.
Moreover, the headline of the article – the part that will be visible on social media where users often do not read entire articles before sharing and commenting – focuses exclusively on Muslim children. However, according to a statement issued by a speaker for the kindergarten in question who is present in the actual article, the kindergarten’s diet is based on the needs of the children which includes giving consideration to children of Muslim and Jewish families. Elaborating on this point, the article even describes how other kindergartens have stated that pork is offered less and less because it harms the group dynamic if some children receive different food to others. Additionally, kindergarten teachers emphasised that pork is not considered to be the healthiest type of meat.
Yet the article initially frames the issue arising from Muslims in German kindergartens, only later admitting that Jewish children, too, do not consume pork. It also casts doubt on the meat being less healthy playing a role by presenting it after evoking far-right fears of a so-called “Islamisation” of Germany. This structure frames the health factor as an excuse of sorts to avoid admitting that the kindergarten’s diet was indeed changed to appease Muslims.
Food is a topic deeply connected to feelings of national identity and as such, it is an easy way to rile up fears about German culture being replaced by customs that are presented as alien. Combined with the topic of German children, stories such as these make for powerful narratives that can generate fear-mongering and passionate anti-Muslim reactions.
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FRANCE – National Rally politician asks a Muslim mother on school trip to remove her hijab
Date of broadcasting: 11 October 2019
Media Outlet: Twitter
Author: Julien Odoul, leader of the National Rally (RN) group in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté regional assembly.
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Julien Odoul, far-right politician of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (former National Front), posted a video on Twitter of him requesting a Muslim mother at the regional parliament to remove her headscarf or leave the building. The woman was accompanying his son on a school trip to the regional assembly in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in France. Odoul addressed the president of the regional council asking her to intervene in the matter and ensure secularity is respected. Odoul’s tweet read: "[RT] In the name of republican and secular principles, I have asked @MarieGuiteDufay to make a parent supervising on a school-trip in the auditorium to remove her Muslim head covering. After the murder of 4 police officers, we must not tolerate this communalist provocation". After the request, the woman’s son cried and hugged his mother, then the whole class left the meeting. Later, the council’s 15 National Rally officials also left the session in protest against her headscarf. Odoul’s video has been viewed more than 4 million times and the photo of the woman hugging her crying son went viral as well. After this incident, several ministers publicly criticised the Muslim headscarf. After this incident, several ministers publicly criticised the Muslim headscarf. The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer stated on national TV that "the law does not prohibit veiled women from accompanying children, but we do not wish to encourage the phenomenon", which is "not in agreement with our values". On a similar line, Bruno Le Maire, minister of economy and finance, said on France Info that the veil "is legal, but not necessarily desirable". Other government members, such as French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye, denounced Odoul’s behaviour as discriminatory.
Myth debunked: Secularism, or “laïcité” in the French language, is defined as a fundamental value and essential principle of the Republic by 5 law from 1905. With this law, France established the separation between state and church as well as the freedom to practice religion, and the protection of freedom of conscience. This means that all religions should stay in the private sector, while the public sphere should see secularism respected. In the application of the secular principle, the law of 15 March 2004 which prohibits all clothing or other attire displaying religious worship to be worn in schools, but headscarves are not banned inside the council’s building or in any other public place. So far, while teachers and students cannot wear any religious symbol, including the headscarf, the law does not extend to parents supervising on school-trips, as in the case of the mother accompanying her son. Contrary to what Julien Odoul said, his request does not fall within the principles of secularism that he invoked. Weeks after this incident, however, the French Senate approved an amendment that would extend a ban on wearing religious symbols to those supervising on school trips. In the past few years, the Muslim headscarf has been central to anti-Muslim hatred. Not only does secularism have a higher impact on the Muslim community, but it has also been manipulated by the far-right to promote anti-Muslim racism.
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UK – Populist news website publishes violent ‘Great Replacement’ theory article
Date of publication: 21 October 2019
Media outlet: Politicalite, populist, far-right news website
Author: Bethany Helmsley
Headline: “WORLD GOVERNMENT: UN flies African ‘refugees’ into Germany”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: This article, which appeared on the far-right British news website Politicalite, reads like a conspiracy theory and uses many of the well-known far-right tropes such as the ‘Great Replacement’ theory. The author, Bethany Helmsley, claims that bodies such as the United Nations are intentionally sending refugees to Europe for insidious reasons: "What is this all about? Nothing less than the destruction of European civilisation and Christianity, to pave the way for a world government of an elite communist clique who will control the rootless, multi-cultural population which is too mixed up, degraded and brainwashed to resist their slavery.” Helmsley further states: "The Europeans must be broken by a huge influx of radically different and preferably low-IQ immigrants who will out-breed them and happily kill them.” The article is littered with serious xenophobic and racist claims, as well as anti-Muslim statements: "The communists fondly imagine that in the battle with Islam, they will win – but history tells us that Islamic brutality and savagery is greater even than that of communists.” The author, Bethany Helmsley, also writes for a blog called Spotting The Serpent’s Tail which recently published a post titled: “Diversity: strength or weakness? Brexit as a case-study.” In this blog post, she calls for the “cleansing” of those who make Britain multicultural.
Politicalite has been reported on by the Get The Trolls Out! project in the past, as they have a strong populist stance. The platform has been quiet recently and seems to have gone through a re-branding. Helmsley is a new writer for the platform, and her piece is in line with more recent Politicalite pieces, which have become more extreme. The news site has been banned from Facebook and demonetised by Google and Paypal.
Myth debunked: Throughout this article, the author uses far-right tropes and narratives, and relies on conspiracy theories to get her xenophobic and anti-Muslim position across. Particularly the ‘Great Replacement’ theory is prevalent in this piece. This trope originated in France and proponents of it “argue that white European populations are being deliberately replaced on an ethnic and cultural level through migration and the growth of minority communities.” The ‘Great Replacement’ theory is mainly focused on migrants from a Muslim background and is often cited when calling for deportation or limitations of these communities. The narrative has serious consequences; the perpetrator of the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019 at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwoof Islam Centre left behind a manifesto that directly referenced the ‘Great Replacement’ theory. Helmsley’s statements very strongly resemble the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, using terminology like “out-breed” and “influx.” Moreover, her claims are extremely violent and hateful, dehumanising refugees coming to Europe. It is clear from her other work, on her blog Spotting The Serpent’s Tail, that she holds very extreme and dangerous views on this matter. Calling for the “cleansing” of those who strive to create a multicultural society can be seen as a call to violence, and could lead to very serious consequences. For her to be provided with a platform on a popular far-right site is extremely worrying, and the reach of her hateful and dangerous must not be underestimated.
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Greece – Popular lifestyle magazine spreads well-established antisemitic conspiracy theories and disinformation
Date of publication: 30 September 2019
Media outlet: Athens Magazine, an online lifestyle magazine.
Headline: “This is how Greece‘s debt was created!: A look back.”
Description of the antisemitic content: This article, which appeared on the online lifestyle website Athens Magazine, claims to explore how Greek debt has accumulated from 1974 to today. The author takes the reader through a supposed timeline of events which led to the debt levels which Greece faces today. Throughout the article the author refers to the involved banks as ‘Jewish banks.’ Furthermore, the article builds on a well-established conspiracy theory in Greece that former Prime Minister Kostantinos Simitisis is of Jewish origin and promotes Jewish interests based on his name. The author claims that Simitis’ original name is Aaron Avouri (Ααρόν Αβουρί). Similar allegations are made about former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and his son George, also served as PM. Simitis and Andreas Papandreou appear in the article’s accompanying photo. Athens Magazine has a large following online: their Facebook page has over 270,000 likes and 239,000 followers.
Myth debunked: This article displays blatant antisemitism, promoting dangerous antisemitic theories and furthering well-established conspiracy theories. Firstly, the author refers to the banks involved as ‘Jewish banks’, which is in line with the much-used antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the banks, and therefore control the world. It is a conspiracy theory that has been around for more than 200 years and was used heavily in Nazi Germany. In the context of this article, the supposed religion of the bank’s owners has no relevance to the piece, and therefore stating (on numerous occasions without any evidence) that ‘Jewish banks’ are to blame for Greece’s debt is clear antisemitism. Furthermore, conspiring to say that former PM’s who played a role in the accumulation of Greece’s debt are in fact ‘secretly Jewish’ and implying they only have the interests of Jewish people in mind is not only extremely hateful but also spreads disinformation.
This disinformation spreading, specific to the PM’s mentioned here, is not new in Greece. In a Jewish "Control" of the Federal Reserve: A Classic Anti-Semitic Myth in December 2018, populist news site and daily, Eleftheri Ora spread similar theories. On their front page, they printed photographs of 14 well-known Greek politicians, including the former President of Greece Karolos Papoulias and six former Prime Ministers, alleging that they all have Jewish origins and that they work to implement “secret policies” to promote “Jewish interests”. To prove their Jewishness, the media outlet referred to what it claims as the politicians’ original names which have been changed, by themselves or their families, to hide their origins. To see this narrative again on a platform with a large reach like Athens Magazine is extremely troubling. It shows that antisemitism is still very much present in Greece, and that certain news platforms have no problem spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories.
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Belgium – Alternative news website interviews author on anti-Muslim ideas
Date of publication: 24 October 2019
Media outlet: Sceptr, alternative media covering news in Belgium and the Netherlands
Author: Tom Lallemand
Headline: “Book interview Islamization and jihad terror: ‘Sensitivity underestimated.’”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: This article, which appeared on the alternative news website Sceptr, is an interview between Sceptr journalist Tom Lallemand and author Mark Scholliers. The piece focuses on Scholliers' newest book ‘Holy Revenge’ which is a political thriller that focuses on Islamisation and jihad terror. The book follows two boys who become radicalised online. According to the book’s blurb, “the reader is immersed in an environment where facts and fiction can hardly be kept apart.” Though the book is fictional, the interview with Scholliers discusses Islam and immigration in the current European climate. In the article, Lallemand and Scholliers mainly discuss ‘Islamisation’, which they claim is happening throughout Europe. Scholliers claims that immigrants are being used to spread Islam: “Islamisation is not only happening as it used to through conquests and - today - through religious terror. It is mainly done in a more subtle way, through, for example, financing and migration, although the latter rarely involves planned, targeted Islamisation.” He goes on to claim that “this insidious Islamisation is happening on a much larger scale and much more under the radar.” The Sceptr article has been viewed 5553 times and shared over 650 times. Two days after the article was published, another article appeared on the Sceptr website titled: “No, migrants are not going to pay for our pensions.” The article took an excerpt from the earlier interview where Scholliers talked about immigration having a negative economic effect on Europe.
Myth debunked: The interview between Lallemand and Scholliers features a lot of common far-right language. The piece talks about ‘Islamisation’ as a fact, and it is clear that Sceptr, as a platform, has established their own truth on this matter, nowhere in the article do they explain what ‘Islamisation’ means. Scholliers’ way of talking about ‘Islamisation’ sounds very much like a conspiracy theory. He claims that migrants are used to spreading Islam, and that this is being done in secret by ‘native’ European people, who have no idea how big the spread of ‘Islamisation’ is. Firstly, neither Scholliers nor Lallemand provide evidence for this theory, other than explaining that some swimming pools have female-only swimming hours (to accommodate religious women, such as Muslim women) and Halal options at school. This, according to them, shows how Europe is being taken over by Islam. Not only is the article written in an extremely alarmist manner, but it also dehumanises migrants in Europe. Describing them as objects being used to spread Islam takes away their humanity and the often terrible experiences forcing them to come to Europe in the first place. The follow-up article, which talks about the supposed economic burden of migrants, develops this narrative further. What on the surface looks like an interview with an author about his new book, is really a platform for dangerous far-right ideas.
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HUNGARY – Origo blames “Muslim mayor” for knife crime numbers in London
Date of publication: 24 October 2019
Media outlet: Origo.hu is a pro-government news site that serves the views of ruling Fidesz party
Headline: “V4NA: The popularity of the Muslim Mayor in London is falling because of stabbings”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article puts emphasis on the Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s religion, repeatedly calling him “mayor of Pakistan's migrant background”, “Islamic migrant from Pakistan”, “Muslim mayor”. In so doing Origo draws a false connection between his political actions and his religion. In this piece, Sadiq Khan is mainly criticised for his inability to tackle knife crime in the capital, which according to Origo causes “scandalous public security in London”. Origo also disapproves of Khan’s positive stance on the peaceful protests by the environmental group Extinction Rebellion in London. This article takes its information from V4NA, a news agency recently established by the Orbán administration in London.
Myth Debunked: It is true that Sadiq Khan currently has a negative satisfaction rating, with 24 percent of Londoners saying they are satisfied with his leadership and 36 percent dissatisfied, according to a YouGov polling. Those who attack Khan over his approach to tackling knife crime in the capital, however, are the London Conservatives, who are the opposition, and Donald Trump. Last June, retweeting a post by right-wing commentator Katie Hopkins, the US president hit out at Sadiq Khan calling him a "disaster" and a "national disgrace" over knife crime in London. But the Office for National Statistics show a different side to this: while knife crime had risen to a record high in England and Wales, there was little overall change in the number of total offences involving a knife or sharp instrument in London in the last year. But even if these statistics showed different results, there is no relation between Sadiq Khan being the son of Pakistan-born parents and his performance as a mayor, let alone the way he addresses knife crime in London.
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BELGIUM – National public broadcaster highlights attacker’s conversion to Islam without explaining its connection to the crime
Date of broadcasting: 3 October 2019
Media Outlet: RTBF, public-service broadcasting organisation delivering radio and television services to the French-speaking Community of Belgium, in Wallonia and Brussels
Headline: “Knife attack at Paris’s police headquarters: the attacker had converted to Islam”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: An RTBF news bulletin clip and a related article drew attention to the religion of an attacker who stabbed four police officers but failed to explain why this was relevant to the story. The report was about a police administrator who stabbed and killed four people at Paris’ police headquarters on 3 October 2019. The entire news report, including the headline, is framed around the recent conversion of the attacker to Islam, but this information is barely mentioned in the body of the text. The article does not explain the connection between the religion and the motivation of the attack, leaving readers to make a false link between Islam and violence.
Myth debunked: The day after the attack, anti-terrorism prosecutors took over the investigation, suggesting that a possible terrorism motive was being considered. Only a few days later, the French anti-terrorist prosecutor revealed that the man who stabbed and killed four people was a radicalised Islamist who slit the throat of at least one of his victims. At the time of the publication of the news bulletin, which was the same day of the attack, RTFB had no reason to make a correlation between the conversion of the attacker and the murders. But by framing their report around the religion of the killer, they implied that the religious affiliation could explain the murderer’s act, thus fuelling the stigmatisation of Muslim people. If there was a connection, as it was revealed by the prosecutors only later, RTFB should have explained it, rather than leaving the readers to make assumptions. It often happens that reporters mention the religion of criminals, and their conversion, when they are Muslim, even when this does not add any relevant information useful to understanding the incidents. This contributes to strengthening a false narrative that converting to Islam is an automatic sign of radicalisation, with devastating consequences on the Muslim population. Journalists should be careful of how their reporting may fuel fear and incite further hatred against religious minorities.
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