ANALYSIS - Islamophobia in Europe is a growing structural challenge

While the far-right has been spreading anti-Muslim messages for centuries now, the centrist-right (EPP) and liberal parties (LREM) are implementing these policies

Farid Hafez  | 09.11.2022 - Update : 09.11.2022
ANALYSIS - Islamophobia in Europe is a growing structural challenge

The writer is a visiting professor of International Studies at Williams College, Massachusetts, and a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative.


On a global level, the unanimous vote in the UN to adopt a resolution presented by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare March 15 as International Day to Combat Islamophobia was an important step towards increasing awareness of the problem of Islamophobia.

But when riveting on the role of European institutions, the picture gets a disfigurement. Besides India currently ruled by the BJP-led government with ultra-hostile anti-Muslim policies and frequent attacks on minorities, it was only two other political actors voicing opposition to the resolution -- one was France and the other was a delegate of the European Union (EU).

France is pushing its anti-Muslim policies

France is --like India-- is no surprise if one considers the recent systematic anti-Muslim policies implemented by the Ministry of Interior of Macron’s government. In the name of fighting a ghost called "Islamist Separatism", a long-time secret policy named "Systematic Obstruction" was implemented that ended with a massive crackdown on France’s Muslim civil society.

As many as 24,887 Muslim organizations and businesses were placed on a secret blacklist and under strict monitoring, and 718 Muslim-owned organizations and businesses including at least 4 schools, 37 mosques, 210 businesses, and two organizations were closed. About €46 million ($46.2) were confiscated by the French government.

Also, civil society organizations that fight or monitor Islamophobia were closed or dissolved. [1] When this was happening, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) was warning that many counter-terrorism strategies are affecting human rights negatively and Muslims are specifically vulnerable.

However, France has been insisting on a deliberate push for its anti-Muslim policies even on a European scale. An event that made more headlines than the Systematic Obstruction policy was when French politicians pushed back against a video published in November 2021 by the Council of Europe. This video aimed at empowering veiled Muslim women --the most vulnerable group-- to promote a more open, free, and inclusive society. The video which was a by-product of a workshop against racism was protested by parts of the French government and resulted in the council finally removing the videos. [2]

Although the pushback met internal critique, the co-founder of Macron’s La République En Marche! (LREM) party made it clear that there was no space for a positive framing of Muslim women. This step was applauded by both the far-right and centrist-right parties.

Campaigns supporting Muslim groups tend to halt

On Oct. 19 this year, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the draft general budget of the EU for the financial year 2023. As it happens more and more often, politicians of the European People’s Party (EPP) include highly ideological statements in an otherwise bureaucratic text. A Slovak Member of the European Parliament from the EPP signed an amendment to include the following text in the budget, which was then accepted by the vast majority.

It says that the European Parliament “expresses its deep concern that the Commission has recently financed or co-financed campaigns promoting the hijab, stating for example that ‘freedom is in hijab’; stresses that the Union budget should not finance any future campaign that may promote the hijab.” In other words: Campaigns that rightly support the empowerment of marginalized sexual, religious, linguistic, and other minorities can be promoted, although, in the case of Muslim women, the same logic of anti-discrimination and empowerment of marginalized communities has to halt.

While the far-right has been spreading anti-Muslim messages for centuries now, the centrist-right (EPP) and liberal parties (LREM) are implementing these policies. And while human rights bodies and even the EU’s fundamental rights agency are warning of the damage that Muslims are facing, a wide ignorance seems to reign in the centers of power.

To give just one example: The European Commission is still tardy in reinstalling the position of the coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred, which has been void since the end of July 2021.

If European institutions continue to work with the countries such as France, which implements what the far-right has been preaching for so long, ignoring the structural violence that Muslims are facing in making them invisible and even more vulnerable, values such as freedom, dignity and equality will be nothing, but empty promises for the religious minorities in Europe.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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