EU Objects Against International Day to Combat Islamophobia: Three Years After Christchurch, Have We Learnt the Lesson?
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Monday March 28 2022
Earlier this month, on the anniversary of the devastating Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, the United Nations passed a resolution recognising March the 15th as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Although the day serves as a reminder of the consequences of leaving Islamophobia unchallenged, it seems that the world has not learned its lesson three years later. It is unfortunate that Islamophobia continues to persist in every corner of our society and that many are still in vehement denial about the issue. Muslim minorities continue to face constant marginalisation, discrimination, vilification, abuse, and in the most extreme cases, death for nothing more than their faith. While the passing of the resolution is instrumental in challenging Islamophobia and a positive step for the future, it comes as no surprise that France and the EU object against the resolution.
It is perhaps unsurprising that France and the EU have objected against the notion considering the treatment of Muslim minorities in the region. Indeed, a report on Islamophobia in Europe in 2020 concluded that Islamophobia has worsened if not reached a tipping point in the region.
A brief overview of anti-Muslim hate crime across a handful of countries reveals the depths of Islamophobia across the EU. These hate crimes range in type, from verbal to physical abuse or damage to property. In Austria, NGO Dokustelle documented 1,051 anti-Muslim hate crime cases, nearly twice as many compared to 2018. Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France (CCIF), an organisation that worked towards combatting Islamophobia in France, which was banned under Macron’s Islamophobic crackdown in 2020, reported 1,043 Islamophobic incidents in France in 2019, an increase of 17% compared to 2018 and 77% compared to 2017. While in Germany, there were 1,026 reports of hate crime against Muslims in 2020, an increase of almost 400% compared to 2019. Consequently, Islamophobia is not only entrenched in Europe, but the statistics detail an ever-growing issue.
The problem is further aggravated when institutions imbed Islamophobia in their policy and institutions. In France, public servants are not allowed to observe the hijab, while in June 2021, the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) upheld a ruling from a German court allowing employers to ban the headscarf. The decision by the ECJ, the highest court in the EU, sets a precedence that legitimises Islamophobia. In effect, employees are legally allowed to sack workers on the grounds of wearing the hijab. Such policies, in particular, actively marginalise already vulnerable Muslim women while further discouraging Muslims from participating in public spaces and civic life.
Indeed, Islamophobia is not just a grassroots issue; the problem starts from the very top, from political leaders and parties. Political rhetoric across Europe has been tainted with Islamophobia and often intertwined with anti-migration policies. The rise of populism in Eastern European countries and the current French presidential campaigns attest to this. Viktor Orban, leader of the Fidesz Party in Hungary, was elected after a campaign that was dogged in anti-migration and anti-Muslim rhetoric. In various speeches, Orban compared Muslims to invaders. At the same time, the Fidesz party put out anti-migration campaign slogans such as “Our cities and villages need to be defended today! Vote!” and “Hungary will not become a migrant country! Let’s support Hungary this Sunday!”. Meanwhile, in France, much of media attention has gone to the far-right fight between Marine La Pen and Eric Zemmour. Zemmour, a far-right media commentator, has described himself as more hostile than Le Pen and has encouraged French Muslims to assimilate and renounce their religion. These examples show how Islamophobia has passed the ‘dinner table’ test, normalising Islamophobia on a European level. It seems that Islamophobic policies are an asset to aspiring politicians across Europe, not a liability.
Ultimately, it seems that lessons from Christchurch have not been learned. The direction in which France and the EU objected on this recent resolution speaks volumes regarding the status of Muslims in these countries. It further demonstrates the lack of commitment by the EU to understand Islamophobia as a global issue, undermining the human rights of Muslims living in Europe. Muslims are marginalised and ostracised simply for their beliefs and are prevented or hindered from participating in public and civic life. As such, MEND calls on the EU to commit meaningfully to set out a plan to combat Islamophobia, lest we forget those who lost their lives when Islamophobia has manifested itself in its most extreme form.