From a German website using demographic conspiracies to fuel fears against Muslims to a Hungarian public broadcaster fuels fears about security in Germany to promote anti-immigration agenda, these December 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.
FRANCE – Far-right magazine reports false information about Ladj Ly’s judicial past, accusing him of wanting to enforce the Sharia law
Date of publication: 17 December 2019
Media outlet: Causeur, far-right French magazine
Headline: “Ladj Ly has been in prison for complicity in murder attempt. A miserable past that he would love to forget...”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The far-right magazine Causeur published an article about Ladj Ly, the director of France’s Oscar shortlisted film Les Misérables, claiming that in 2009 he was convicted of attempted murder. In the article, the crime is described as motivated by religious beliefs. The headline of one of the paragraphs is “When Ladj Ly was enforcing the Sharia law…” The reporter writes that Amad Ly, Ladj Ly’s friend, found out that his sister was having a relationship without being married. “She is not a virgin anymore, she is not married either. According to Muslim religion, this has a name: ‘fornication’ […] “As it is about the honour of a family, it is a transgression that has to be severely punished. Sharia law has to be applied”, the article states. According to the magazine, the film director, his friend, and another man kidnapped the woman’s partner, drove him to the woods and beat him until the man was able to run away.
Myth Debunked: The news story, presented by Causeur as a “scoop”, was partially false. The fact-checking service of the newspaper Libération, Checknews, investigated the case and discovered that the film director served a two-year prison term for complicity in a kidnapping case, not for attempted murder. Moreover, there were no religious motives in the crime. "Contrary to what some far-right media wrote, the sentence is not about a ‘murder attempt’. And it’s not either, from the articles that date back to the time that we were able to check, about a link with Muslim religion as motive of his action,” Libération stated. Causeur has since edited the headline, which now says ““Ladj Ly has been in prison for complicity in kidnapping. A miserable past that he would love to forget...”, but nothing else in the article has been changed. In fact, they use the findings of Libération to prove that their “scoop” is valid – an article published the following day was titled “Ladj Ly: Libération confirms information revealed by Causeur.” However, the text in both articles still reports that Ly had to appear in court for attempted kidnapping and murder. Valeurs Actuelles, a far-right magazine, picked up the news from Causeur and also reported that Ly was sentenced for attempted murder and insisted on the religious motives. Ly has announced he is going to sue Causeur and Valeurs Actualles for “defamation” and “racist slander” for their reporting on him. In a statement sent to Le Monde, Ly’s lawyers said that he was not responsible of any violence in the case they are mentioning, even less of complicity in attempted murder, and that he clearly did not want to “enforce the Sharia law”. Ladj Ly’s film "Les Misérables", which won an award at the Cannes Festival in 2019 and has been shortlisted for the Academy Awards, was inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris, and brings attention to the police brutality in Parisian suburbs such as Montfermeil. The movie has been very successful, but some far-right media have been very critical about the issues addressed by the film as well as about the director. Causeur’s article aims to undermine the credibility of the director and the message of his movie.
BELGIUM – DHnet.be features exclusively the nationalist Flemish party in article on the headscarf ban in schools
Date of publication: 24 December 2019
Media outlet: DH.be, La Dernière Heure, a French-language daily newspaper published in Belgium
Headline: “Muslim head covering prohibited in two schools in Antwerp: Ben Weyts (N-VA) welcomes the court's decision”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article reports the reaction by the nationalist New Flemish Alliance party (N-VA) to the judgement of the Court of Appeal of Antwerp, which held that the headscarf ban in two schools in the north-Eastern Maasmechelen municipality was justified. The article states that the Flemish minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling. It also quotes the minister’s words: “I fully believe that the prohibition of wearing philosophical symbols in the Community Education [Flemish Community GO! Education] is necessary. Wearing these symbols often provokes discussions. Community Education schools must be a neutral space, not a place for discussions on religion or conversions. Only the extremists benefitted from this argument, which has been going on for a while now”. This ruling overturns the previous decision by a court in Tongeren, which in 2018 judged that that the eleven students, whose parents had started the procedure, should be allowed to wear the headscarf in their schools. In its ruling, the court in Tongeren referred to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which obliges European countries to allow all citizens free practice of religion. The school which the students challenged in court is affiliated to a public body called GO! Education of Flemish Community. In 2013 GO! Education decided to ban headscarves in all public schools affiliated to it in Belgium’s Flemish region.
Myth Debunked: This article is problematic because it presents only the point of view of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a right-wing Flemish nationalist party, on an issue that concerns Muslim women first and foremost. But no one from the Muslim community was interviewed by DHnet.be, nor the article reports any reactions or statements by Muslim organisations. Only the Islamophobic and discriminatory views of N-VA are presented in this piece, suggesting the importance of their prejudiced attitudes over the opinion of the people whose lives are, or could be, affected by this ruling. Once more, Muslim women are at the centre of news stories but their voices keep being excluded. Furthermore, the photo chosen by DHnet.be to illustrate this article is of a woman wearing the niqab. This image is not suitable for this specific piece because it is not representative of Muslim women in Belgium, where only a very small minority of Muslim women wear the face-covering veil, and even fewer students wear it in schools. Last October, GTTO highlighted the same issue for an article about people’s attitudes towards Muslim head coverings. Prompted by a complaint from the European Network On Religious Belief, DH.be changed the unsuitable photo, but only two months later the same media outlet made the same mistake, again overlooking the implications and the consequences of the photo they used. Muslim women are consistently stigmatised in the mainstream media, and images and articles such as this ultimately fuel discrimination.
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HUNGARY – Public broadcaster fuels fears about security in Germany to promote anti-immigration agenda
Date of broadcasting: 22 and 23 December 2019
Media outlets: Híradó M1, main evening news programme of MTVA, the Hungarian public broadcaster.
Headlines: “More and more German citizens move to Hungary for security reasons”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This M1 news report features the stories of two German people who moved to Hungary “because they wanted to live in peace and security”. Interviewed by the reporter, a person called Tanja Weber recounts how she “was living in constant terror” when she would walk home in her town in Germany. She said that what convinced her to move to Zalakomár was an episode where she “almost became a victim of ‘migrant violence’”, when she “was almost raped by three Syrians” to whom she wanted to sell a sofa. Weber says she wanted to report the incident to the police, but she was discouraged by the police themselves who told her she would not have any chance to achieve anything because the three of them would dispute her statements. “Then I decided to leave Germany. I want to live in peace, security and happiness”, Weber said. The second interviewee is a person called Stephen Richther, a former personal protection officer, who bought a house and moved to the Zala county two years ago. He said: “Germany is moving towards Islamisation, and the government cannot and does not want to protect their people. The economy is in decline, thousands are being laid off from their jobs, while the government claims there is a shortage of labour and that is why immigrants are needed”. The news clip says that he helped his brothers’ families to move to Hungary, while another German family will arrive in January. “In early 2015, he already knew that the mass migration would have unpredictable consequences”, the reporter says adding “they look at the Hungarian village where they live now as their new homeland. They hope they will live there safe and in peace.”
Myth Debunked: This news item by Híradó M1 is one-sided, as it uses the story of two families to assert that moving from Germany to Hungary to seek security is something systematic and objective. No experts are interviewed nor is data provided to support the claims about the lack of security in Germany caused by high immigration and, in contrast with this, the security in Hungary due to a low immigration level. The independent media outlet 444.hu fact checked the claims by Híradó M1 and found out that recent crime statistics show that the number of violent crimes per 100,000 people in Hungary and Germany is approximately the same: the latest figures on murder rate in Hungary was 0.94 in 2017, compared to 1.18 in Germany in 2016. However, according to the latest United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes statistics mentioned also by 444.hu, in 2017 the proportion of intentional homicides was much higher in Hungary (2.5 per 100,000 people; 104th place in the world than in Germany (1.0 per 100,000 people; 47th place in the world). The Global Peace Index 2019, which ranks 163 states and territories according to their level of peacefulness, sees Hungary at number 21, followed by Germany at number 22. These statistics, compiled by different sources, show how it is deceitful to claim that immigration increases the security threats in Germany. The way this Híradó M1 news clip is framed falls under the anti-immigration agenda dominant across the country’s pro-government media. Through fear-mongering about immigration in Germany, propaganda media promote the idea that a strict anti-immigration policy is in the interests of Hungarian citizens to protect their own security.
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BELGIUM – Vlaams Belang Shares Video of their Party Leader Giving Anti-Muslim and Xenophobic Speech
Date of publication: 2 December 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 2 December 2019, far-right European Parliament group Identity and Democracy organised an event at which several politicians spoke about the future of Europe, calling the event: “New Hope for Europe.” The most notable guest at the event was Italian politician and Federal Secretary of Italy's Lega Norde Matteo Salvini, known for his populist ideas. During his speech, he said: “First and foremost should be the protection of our identity, because Europe is either Christian, or it is not Europe. An Islamic Europe is the death (end) of our identity, the death of our dreams, the death of our rights.” Representing Vlaams Belang was party leader Tom Van Grieken, who also spoke at the event stating: “Our Europe is not a Europe of Mosques and Minarets but of belfries and Cathedrals. And so must it remain for centuries.” Vlaams Belang shared a ‘highlight’ video of the event, sharing clips of the above speeches with their followers.
Myth debunked: The “New Hope for Europe” event clearly displayed the presence of populism around Europe, and how this rise is largely based on fearmongering around Islam and immigration. By sharing a video of these troubling speeches, Vlaams Belang is making clear that they are in line with these ideas, with the party’s own leader clearly stating that Europe should only be Christian. Not only is this an attack on Europe’s Muslim population, but it is an attack on all other non-Christian individuals who call Europe their home. The speech and subsequent promotion of the event and speeches shows clearly that Vlaams Belang is an anti-pluralistic and anti-religious political party. Hosting Salvini, a man who has called migrants "an army of benefit thieves and criminals" and has made openly racist ‘jokes’ on live TV, further demonstrates this.
Within the Get The Trolls Out! project we have covered Vlaams Belang before, as they repeatedly spread anti-Muslim and xenophobic ideas, largely through their Facebook page, which has over 480,000 likes. Besides the video of the “New Hope for Europe” event, Vlaams Belang has shared several more posts using xenophobic and anti-Muslim tropes. The party is gaining power in Belgium, with recent polls showing that Vlaams Belang now hold 27% of votes in Flanders, making it the top party. Looking through comments on the Vlaams Belang Facebook page, it is clear that many followers agree with the ideology presented by the party and share similar populist ideas. With its increased popularity, it is vital to monitor Vlaams Belang’s narrative and ensure that they are not using their political platform to spread hate.
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UK – Melanie Phillips Spread Anti-Muslim Narrative on The Times Website
Date of publication: 3 December 2019
Media outlet: The Times, British daily national newspaper
Author: Melanie Phillips
Headline: “Islamists are not the same as other prisoners”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This piece by Melanie Phillips was published in The Times, and was in-part a response to the attack on London Bridge on November 29th, 2019, committed by Usman Khan. Khan was convicted of plotting a terrorist attack in 2012 and went through a rehabilitation program for terrorism convicts. In this piece, Phillips is claiming that rehabilitation programmes do not work for Islamic terrorists due to the Islamic doctrine of ‘taqiyya’: “They [Islamic terrorists] may furthermore observe the doctrine of 'taqiyya', the command to deceive for Islam. [...] This might explain why de-radicalisation programmes in prison are failing. Many who take part are said to pretend they have changed their views in order to game the system. All this means Islamic radicalisation poses a unique set of challenges. Yet the entire establishment runs terrified from acknowledging any of them for fear of being accused on 'Islamophobia', the term used to silence all criticism of the Muslim world."
Myth debunked: The issue here is misinformation, and how this misinformation is being used to paint an anti-Muslim image. Phillips is referring to the Islamic doctrine of ‘taqiyya’ seemingly with very little knowledge about its specificities, and how it is applied. Dr H.A. Hellyer wrote for ABC news Australia how Phillips misinterpreted the doctrine: “A recent column published by the Times of London demonstrates why such editorial diligence, especially when religious claims are concerned, is so vital. Admittedly, the columnist, Melanie Phillips, has form when it comes to anti-Muslim bigotry. Nevertheless, the Times seemingly did nothing to prevent her from describing ‘the doctrine of taqiyya’ as ‘the command to deceive for Islam.’ She goes on to enlist the claim of a deceased professor (without citation) that such divinely authorised deceit is common practice among Muslims. This is, of course, nonsense. And had Phillips or her editor done their due diligence, they would have discovered as much. Taqiyya is, after all, a concept that is fairly easily fact-checked — but the consequences of not checking such sweeping claims are immense because they contribute further to the demonization of Muslim communities, particularly in the West where they already face entrenched societal antipathy."
Criticising the de-radicalisation program in the UK is not the issue here; such programs and their responsible institutions are open to criticism and should be monitored. However, when such criticism is used to push an anti-Muslim narrative, it transforms into bigotry. What Phillips is essentially saying with this piece, is that all Muslims are taught to deceive, and paints a picture of them as untrustworthy and potentially dangerous. Not only is she blurring the line between Muslims and Islamic terrorists through this piece, but her argument lacks strong theological background and evidence. This is not the first time Phillips has pushed anti-Muslim narratives through her writing; she wrote another piece in the Jewish Chronicle this month claiming that claims of Islamophobia are “bogus.” Despite this history, Phillips is still regularly hosted on large platforms like The Times and allowed to spread her hateful ideas.
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GREECE – Populist Website Publishes Opinion Piece Dehumanising Muslims and Migrants
Date of publication: 17 December 2019
Media outlet: Amazonios.net, an online Greek populist news website
Headline: "Pakistanis slaughter each other on the road... The "meat-mincers" being allowed to stay in the country are getting trained (to kill)"
Description of the anti-Muslim and xenophobic content: This opinion piece appeared on the Amazonios.net platform, without any named author. The piece seems to refer to a specific instance of violence between two Pakistani individuals; however, nowhere in the piece does the author disclose where this incident happened, when and why. It is also unclear whether the accompanying photo is of the incident. Instead, the author decides to focus on people of Pakistani origin in Greece, claiming that they are “Muslim sub-humans” and “illegal migrants.” The author states: "The country is in immediate danger of the absolute invasion of Muslim sub-humans as the current Greek-speaking Mitsotakis' government deliberately imports illegal migrants into our society", furthering: “They [Pakistani’s in Greece] are getting prepared to attack and slaughter Greek citizens as soon as they get a general order to do so".
Myth debunked: There are many problematic elements to this article. Firstly, the language used is extremely dehumanising and inflammatory. Referring to fellow human beings as ‘sub-humans’ has been a technique used in the past in order to belittle and criminalise people belonging to certain groups, and can lead to dangerous consequences. Secondly, the author continually links Pakistan and Islam, claiming that Pakistanis, and therefore Muslims, are violent and dangerous. Yes, the state religion in Pakistan is Islam; however, ethnicity and religion are two different things and should not be assumed without reason or proof. The supposed case this article is based on is largely unclear, as the reader is given little to no detail about what happened, other than that a violent instance occurred between two Pakistani individuals. To go from this vague case to claiming that “Pakistani slaughter each other on the road” and referring to them as “meat-mincers” is a gross generalisation. Claims about organised attacks against Greek citizens by Pakistanis in Greece read like a conspiracy theory; however, they would also be successful in alarming someone and causing them to be wary of Pakistanis, and Muslims in Greece. Pieces like this on populist platforms like Amazonios.net can easily influence someone into developing hateful behaviour towards certain groups, and thus their influence must be taken with extreme seriousness.
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GERMANY – PI-News uses demographic conspiracies to fuel fears against Muslims
Date of publication: 5 December 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: “Germany 2030: 20 Million Muslims?”
Description and debunking of the anti-Muslim content: This is a fear-mongering article about the (alleged) rising numbers of the Muslim population in Germany, and how this trend is a threat to non-Muslim Germans. It describes the immigration of Muslims to Western Europe as a danger, using racist words such as “intruders,”, “invasion,” or “birth jihad.” The article begins with the sensationalist sentence: “The number of Mohammedans in Germany doubles every ten years.”. It claims that there are currently about 10 million Muslims living in Germany and that there will be roughly 20 million in 2030. According to the author, this increase is due to the “illegal invasion of 250,000 men per year, who break in freely across our national borders (one intruder every two minutes);”, “250,000 people per year via the so-called ‘family reunification’,”, and “an additional 120,000 Muslims [who] are born each year in Germany via birth jihad, i.e. the birth rate of Mohammedans already living in Germany, which is estimated at around 1.2 percent, and are automatically declared ‘Germans’.” While admitting that these are just estimations, the author says he did not take official statistics into account because “the Federal Government regards Islamisation as a state secret and therefore hides official figures or falsifies them statistically,” Furthermore, the article blames “Turkish and Arabic ‘trafficking groups’” (“Schlepperkonzerne”) for imposing immigration on Germany thanks to their “professional organisation” and “increasing funds to expand their business.” The article continues: “around 250,000 predominantly African Muslims will be flown directly to Germany via state settlement projects each year - the two to three flights a day required for this should be politically easy to implement.” Lastly, the author says: “Life and survival will become increasingly difficult for Christians and atheists in an increasingly Islamic country, and conversion promises at least some minimal physical protection, especially for women.” But, the author adds, “people who watched the invasion of 2015 without action will witness even more things without doing anything.”
Myth Debunked: This article is extremely racist and discriminatory against Muslim people and migrants. It uses ethnic slurs and abusive expressions; the language used is aggressive and dangerous. It describes Muslims solely as a threat whose goal is to invade and replace non-Muslim citizens. The author refers to new-born babies from Muslim parents as “birth jihad”, i.e. a concerted, planned effort to “Islamise” Europe through a ‘demographic war’. The article further implies that Muslim children born in Germany are not – and, by implication, cannot – be German citizens, affirming that if the parents are Muslim (regardless of the citizenship they have), their children are not truly German. The whole article is made up of aggravating claims based on racist speculations that contradict themselves. The author tries to provide figures to support the claim that the Muslim population is growing at around 600.000 per year. However, what we read is an assortment of conjectures and ludicrous allegations about demography, immigration, and multiculturalism. The author uses bizarre demographic conspiracy theories about the German Federal Government hiding the number of Muslims living in Germany, but also about politicians being deliberately responsible of the so-called “Muslim invasion” to push the “ethnic replacement of Western Europe forward, especially through migrants from Africa.”. Moreover, the word the author uses for the so-called ethnic replacement, “Umvolkung”, is an old Nazi term. Demographic conspiracies are increasingly dominant among the far right. Spreading such conspiracy narratives and linking them to an alleged danger is not just a provocative racist discourse without any consequences. In fact, the terrorists responsible for the three most deadly far-right terror attacks in the past ten years (Anders Breivik in Oslo, Patrick Crusius in El Paso, and Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch) have all made explicit reference to demographic conspiracies.
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