Throwing a pork head, or sometimes even a grenade, on a mosque. Assaulting a Muslim woman who wears a head scarf. Demonstrating against the building of a mosque or against the local supermarket which sells Halal food. Incidents like these are happening on a daily basis in 21st century Europe.
On May 3 the very first European Islamophobia Report (EIR) was presented at the European Union parliament in Brussels. The aim of its authors, leading experts in the field from all over Europe, is to “analyze trends in the spread of Islamophobia in various European states.” For 2015, 25 states have been analyzed—and the results are frightful.
During the first half of 2015, and since the attacks on “Charlie Hebdo,” anti-Muslim attacks increased in France by more than 500 percent, with 75 percent of the victims women; because of their head scarves, the Muslim background of many is much easier to identify than is the case for men.
The reports makes clear that many non-Muslim citizens of Europe believe that Islam and its worshippers do not fit in their society. According to a recent poll by the Bertelsmann Foundation, 61 percent of Germans believe that Islam does not fit in the West, while 46 percent of the Britons think being Muslim in the United Kingdom is difficult.
Less Muslims, More Islamophobia
The authors conclude that the so-called “refugee crisis” has fueled resentment towards Muslims. Nevertheless, Islamophobia was already heavily present in the years before this crisis, especially in countries with tiny Muslim minorities, such as Hungary and Lithuania. Islamophobia has become a successful political tool to mobilize the masses. For that reason, many people tend to believe that Muslims in general are criminal and violent, although the crime statistics prove the opposite. Apart from that, people also often overestimate the number of Muslims in their countries.
In this context, it is noteworthy that many people in Europe still exclude their fellow Muslim citizens from society. For them, it seems that being Muslim and being European at the same time is impossible. Frighteningly, Muslims have not just become “the other” these days—they are also considered a threat. Although the collected data in the EIR makes this very clear, European Muslims themselves have felt this for years years and do not need a study for confirmation.
Some people, like myself, have experienced this hostile attitude very early in life. Already at the age of nine, one day after the attacks of September 11, my teacher asked me in front of the whole class why “these people” did this, as if I knew Mohammad Ata personally. I did not know how to answer, but from that time on I was sure that my Afghan-Muslim identity would be a problem.
Some years later, I witnessed how the right-wing extremist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) looked for a useful scapegoat for almost every problem in the country and, of course, found Muslims to blame. The party’s leader, Heinz Christian-Strache, became infamous for attending rallies with a cross in his hand, warning against the “Islamization of Europe.”
Islamophobia and Imperialist Politics
The first time I witnessed Strache live was in my hometown Innsbruck, the capital of the federal state of Tyrol in western Austria. During his heavily secured rally, Strache remembered the legacy of Andreas Hofer, Tyrol’s local hero who fought against the Bavarian troops of Napoleon Bonaparte at the beginning of the 19th century. Strache suggested that today’s enemies are not French or Bavarian soldiers, but Muslims, migrants and refugees. One of the policemen who secured the area against leftist protestors grinned maliciously at me.
At first, one might think that such a party could not be successful in this age, but this assumption is wrong. During the last few years, the FPÖ has gained a lot of support among the Austrian people. The peak of this support was reached last month when the FPÖ’s candidate won the first round of the presidential elections. Now the Islamophobic fascists are one step away from power.
The struggle against Islamophobia is anything but easy. The EIR’s authors do not want to act reproachfully. For that reason, they suggest that all European countries hold any kind of hate speech as a chargeable crime, and to tackle discrimination against Muslim women in the job market.
However, it is questionable whether European politics will be able to handle all these problems seriously. The phenomenon of Islamophobia is not new and has always been linked with imperialist politics. The construction of the Muslim other has become a useful tool to distract from own failures and to justify miseries elsewhere, such as Damascus and Kabul. Thanks to this kind of one-sided and egoistic politics, Islamophobia is on the rise—not just on European streets, but in European parliaments.