From a French magazine vilififying a Jewish historian for his physical appearance to Belgian festivities being used to broadcast anti-Muslim sentiments, these November 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.
UK – Far-Right Site Spreads Anti-Muslim Tropes Surrounding UK General Elections
Date of publication: 13 November 2019
Media outlet: TR.News, a website founded by Tommy Robinson which claims it “reports the unreported news to the forgotten about people of Britain.”
Headline: “Islamists Democratic Jihad - Operation Muslim Vote 2019”
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: This article, which appeared on the TR.News website, talks about a supposed “Operation Muslim Vote.” In the piece, the author states that there is a campaign in the UK which “aims to get the Muslim demographic energised and mobilised to make sure the Muslim ‘block vote’ does maximum damage to the Conservative Government who are supposedly ‘deeply Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic’.” It goes further, claiming that “the Islamist demographic in this country is waging jihad on democracy, ironically, by using democracy against itself.” Finally, the author concludes: “The people of Britain MUST stand up to this Islamist threat, the focus and use of the highly effective Muslim demographic will end up subverting our democracy and freedoms.” There was also an article on far-right news site Politicalite on the same topic, titled: “HOLY VOTE: Mosques Urge Voting As Muslims Predicted To SWING 31 Seats Across Britain.” While less alarmist language was used in the piece, the author constructed a clear negative narrative around the fact that Mosques around the country are urging Muslims to vote. This article had a reach of over 2700.
Myth debunked: The general election in the UK is scheduled for 12 December 2019. On this day, all registered British, Irish and qualifying Commonwealth citizens over the age of 18 can vote for the UK parliament. The right to vote extends to those of all cultural backgrounds and religions who fit the qualifying factors, thus of course also Muslims. British Muslims have the right to vote for their UK parliament, and vote for who they feel represents their interests best. This goes for all voters: Christian voters, Jewish voters, atheist voters and so on. Yet, the article which appeared on the TR.News website seems to suggest that the ‘Muslim vote’ is something sinister, unlike all the other votes in the UK. The author constructs a narrative of a highly organised and evil group of people who are looking to change British democracy to serve only the Muslim population, going as far as to say the Britain is ‘suiciding’ by letting Muslims vote in the upcoming elections. Not only is this a blatant disregard for the right to vote, but it is painting a very alarmist image of British Muslims, who are a diverse group and not one whole.
There are also some classic far-right tropes used in this article, namely that of the Islamisation of Europe. The author states that there is an “ever-growing and influential Muslim demographic” in the country, terminology which we often see used by populist groups when ‘warning’ of the threats of Muslims in Europe. Moreover, there is clear othering at play in this piece, with statements such as: “The people of Britain MUST stand up to this Islamist threat.” Do British Muslims not qualify as people of Britain? This is a dangerous precedent to set. While this article is not surprising coming from TR.News, it is very troubling to see this narrative being used across different platforms. It is clear that there is an underlying political motivation to this article, and it joins the countless other British media outlets taking a clear political side. However, it is unacceptable for political messaging to hatefully target certain groups and, in this case, take a clear anti-Muslim stance.
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FRANCE – Magazine vilifies Jewish historian for his physical appearance and his “distance from French identity”
Date of publication: 31 October 2019
Media Outlet: Valeurs Actuelles, far-right magazine
Headline: "An official historian”
Author: Bruno Larebière
Description of the antisemitic content: In the October special edition of Valeurs Actuelles, dedicated to “French Algeria”, an article attacks the Jewish French historian Benjamin Stora using antisemitic tropes. Born in Algeria, Benjamin Stora is a professor of Maghreb History at the Institute of Oriental Civilizations and Languages (INALCO) in Paris and at Paris 13 University. He is an expert in the history of French colonialism and decolonisation wars, as well as the Maghreb immigration to Europe. The article however, does not criticise him about his academic work, nor does it refer to his publications or the topics of his research. Instead, it attacks him for his Jewish identity ("distanced [relationship] with the French identity"), his physical appearance ("This man did not just get fat, he has been swelling […] inflated, at the risk to explode, of that nasty fat” ), and his "social status" ("[his] vanity which has grown in parallel with his social status").
Myth debunked: Benjamin Stora himself published a blog post detailing why the Valeurs Actuelles article is antisemitic. "It is a charge against the intellectuals, who work in academia, those who produce a "System" and official stories. Again, this hatred against Jewish intellectuals is an old recipe”, says the historian. The way Benjamin Stora is described draws from the antisemitic trope of the greedy and ambitious Court Jew. To make this clear, Stora compared this article to what was published in the far-right media during the Dreyfus and Damascus affairs: the obsession about his weight implies the idea of an enrichment, which was also present in antisemitic articles about Bernard Lazarre, Léon Blum, and Adolphe Crémieux. The far-right has often attacked Stora on his anti-colonial positions, “but here there’s a qualitative leap, with this insistence on my body,” he said to Le Monde: “It is a classic caricature of the capitalist Jew with a big cigar. I am described as the one who had a career in the dark, who cannot understand French identity.” A petition signed by hundreds of intellectuals has denounced the antisemitic nature of the article and expressed support to the historian.
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HUNGARY – Independent journalists receive antisemitic attacks for “hating Hungarians”
Date of publication: 19 and 20 November 2019
Media outlets: 888.hu, pro-government news site, and M1, pro-government public broadcasting network
Headlines: “Perfect drawing shows the provocateur from Index” and “The party Mi Hazánk is suing Index.hu”
Description of the antisemitic content: After publishing an opinion piece regarding his visit to a national stadium opening on 15 November, Index journalist Gábor Miklósi has been targeted by the far-right and pro-government media. His opinion piece recounted that he did not stand up when “Without you”, an old pop song that is currently popular among the Hungarian right and the far-right, was played. Miklósi wrote that while everyone stood up, he was the only one to remain seated and that he only stands for the Hungarian national anthem. The far-right and pro-government media attacked him as a “monster” and “alien”, accusing him to hate Hungarians. The public national broadcasting network M1 Hirado devoted 8 minutes of their morning news interviewing the far-right party Mi Hazánk about their intentions to sue Index journalists for hate speech and his “anti-Hungarian behaviour.” Propaganda media 888.hu published an antisemitic caricature of the journalist sitting down, indifferent to Hungarian celebrations, while everyone else is standing with a flag. A week after the publication of the opinion piece, anonymous antisemitic posters popped up across the city of Budapest. These posters showed Gábor Miklósi and his journalist colleague András Dezső, who had done an online video on asylum seekers using the same song sung at a concert, with an Israeli flag in the background and beneath them the words: “We too, came from the other side of the border.”
Myth Debunked: A common antisemitic myth of the Hungarian far-right is that Index, one of the few remaining media outlets critical of the government, is inclined to hate Hungarians. Soon after the publication of the opinion piece by Miklósi, and the online video by Dezső, they were smeared and attacked on different platforms. Not only were the journalists accused of hating Hungarians (it is common for nationalists and the far-right to accuse their political opponents of not being patriotic enough), but this accusation was also framed using antisemitic tropes. The caricature of Miklósi featured a hooked-nose and dark curly hair, disinterested in the Hungarian celebrations, with posters of the Israeli flag in the background and the accusation of not belonging to Hungary. These all fall within a long history of antisemitic smears about Jewish dual loyalty, disloyalty to the nation, or even betrayal. Disloyalty myths were used in Nazi Germany to justify the persecution of the Jewish people, but they have their roots in medieval Europe, when the failure to convert from Judaism to Christianity was often interpreted as a link between Jews and the devil, as well as an innate disloyalty to Europe. Today, similar antisemitic beliefs are still held by a portion of society in Europe. A 2019 survey by ADL, for example, revealed that in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, more than 40 percent of the public believe that Jews are more loyal to the State of Israel than to their own country. Episodes like the one that involved journalists Miklósi and Dezső raise new concerns about antisemitism in Hungary as well as a constantly declining freedom of the press in the country. “These events” a statement by Reporter Without Borders says, “come against a backdrop of constant harassment of independent media ever since Viktor Orbán was returned to the position of prime minister in 2010.”
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BELGIUM - Vlaams Belang Political Party Members Use Xenophobic Arson Attack to Spread Anti-Muslim Messages
Date of publication: 17 November 2019
Media outlet: Facebook page of Vlaams Belang, Flemish right-wing populist and nationalist political party
Politician: Tom Van Grieken
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: On November 10th, a building which was set to serve as an asylum center was purposefully set alight in the Belgian city of Bilzen. There were no victims involved and the perpetrators are currently unknown. However, some politicians and journalists associated the incident with political party Vlaams Belang, supposing that the perpetrators were party supporters. This was in part because a photo on Twitter showed around 15 demonstrators behind a Vlaams Belang banner proclaiming “No asylum centre in Bilzen.” In response to these claims Tom Van Grieken, current chairman of the party, spoke on the issue at Vlaams Belang’s presidential congress this month: “What is unbelievable, is the selective indignation of the political establishment. Those same politicians who now point at our party with an accusing finger, are the ones who say after every Islamic terror attack: ‘We have to wait for the investigation. It is probably a confused man. But it has nothing to do with Islam. We can certainly not draw any conclusions’.” Van Grieken then continued by mentioning that traditional parties accuse the Vlaams Belang for creating a division within Belgian society. He states that this is untrue, and that it is instead irresponsible immigration policy and traditional parties that are creating a division within the country. He claims that it is the traditional parties and not Vlaams Belang who are responsible for the rise of ghettos in Belgium, and that traditional parties are also the cause of ‘Islamisation.’ Similar points were raised by Chris Janssens, chairman of the Vlaams Belang block in the Flemish Parliament, on Twitter.
Myth debunked: The arson attack which happened at the to-be asylum centre in Bilzen currently does not have an identified perpetrator and thus the media must be careful with pointing fingers. In this regard, Van Grieken and Janssens do have some legitimacy; however, it is the way in which this issue was handled which is troubling. Van Grieken is taking an event, which we can safely assume is a xenophobic arson attack, and linking it with Muslims and the supposed ‘Islamisation’ of Belgium. This undermines the events that took place and creates a negative and hateful narrative around Belgian Muslims, despite them having no connection with this specific event. Moreover, Van Grieken uses this as a chance to spread anti-Muslim ideas, which include the far-right theory of ‘Islamisation’ and the blatant negativity in regards to immigration. It is precisely this type of rhetoric which led many journalists to assume that the attack in Bilzen was likely caused by Vlaams Belang followers. While, as stated before, this is not an ethical assumption to make, it does speak to the current nature of Belgian politics. Vlaams Belang sees Muslim communities in Belgium as a problem which must be dealt with. Through the Get The Trolls Out! project, we have highlighted this party in the past, for example when they posted a false xenophobic news piece on their official Facebook page. This is a political party which received the second largest amount of votes in the 2019 elections and thus holds a large amount of power in Belgian politics. It is also a party which has displayed, on numerous occasions, clear anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric which can not and should not be taken lightly.
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GERMANY – Saint Martin's Day Incident Used To Broadcast Anti-Muslim Sentiments
Date of publication: 14 November 2019
Media Outlet: Junge Freiheit ("Young Freedom") is a German weekly newspaper situated between national-conservative and far-right media, often times catering to narratives of the so-called "New Right" and Compact Online, a far-right magazine
Headlines: “Muslima indignant: St Martin is no longer allowed to perform” (Junge Freiheit) & “Fired because he called St. Martin's a Christian festival” (Compact)
Examination of the anti-Muslim content: The two articles revolve around an incident at this year’s Saint Martin's day celebration in West Germany. During these festivities, children walk through town with colourful lanterns in a big procession, singing songs about the saint and the legend of how he shared half his cloak with a beggar. Usually, a re-enactment of this scene takes place at the end of the procession and children receive pastries or bags of candy, depending on the regional customs. According to local news, while a Muslim mother wearing a headscarf waited in line with her children to receive the pastries in a town near Bonn, the performer of the Saint Martin character reportedly stated emphatically that Saint Martin’s day is a Christian tradition. Later, the mother’s sister-in-law took to Facebook to express her frustration, stating that the comment made the mother feel unwelcome and excluded. In the end, several organisations and officials condemned the performer’s remark and the performer will apparently not be asked to play the part again.
Both Junge Freiheit and Compact frame this incident as though the performer was merely stating a fact in an innocuous manner, with the insinuation being that Muslims were overly sensitive. Junge Freiheit remains more subtle throughout its article, yet still starts off with the sensationalist headline “Muslima indignant: Saint Martin is no longer allowed to perform.” This framing evidently played well with the online audience since the article generated a high number of interactions on social media, particularly Facebook.
Compact’s article goes a bit further with its framing and insinuation. For instance, the article starts by referencing other supposed attacks on the festivity such as instances in which Saint Martin’s day was occasionally renamed by kindergartens, allegedly “to pay tribute to Muslim sensitivities” and “in order to keep it deliberately neutral and thus open to all nations.” The article links these perceived infringements on this Christian tradition to Muslims by ironically raising doubts that “this neutrality” will also lead to a “de-Islamising of the Muslim Ramadan festival in order not to offend the (still existing) Christian children.”
Combined with the framing that a performer at a Christian celebration was fired for merely stating that the tradition is of Christian origin, such jabs about “still existing” Christian children play into the conspiracy narrative of “Islamisation” and the “war on Christmas.” As discussed in previous Media Monitoring Highlights, the “Islamisation” conspiracy narrative holds that Muslims aim to replace Western and/or Christian traditions – and the “war on Christmas” conspiracy narrative conveys the idea that the Christian tradition of celebrating Christmas is under attack by nefarious forces – often as a so-called “PC (politically correctness) culture” or Muslims.
As such, the articles implicitly or explicitly perpetuate stereotypes about Muslims being a danger to Christian and/or Western cultures, claiming that they slowly try to erode customs under the pretence of a factitious call for inclusion.
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