By ANDREW E. HARROD
On March 21, 2013, the United Nation's observed its annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commemorating the anniversary of the 1960 apartheid massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa. Attempting to draw a parallel with the massacre, the Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) grouping European Network Against Racism (ENAR) issued its Racism in Europe: ENAR Shadow Report 2011-12 on racism in Europe the week earlier. In the report's associated Key Findings on Muslim Communities and Islamophobia, ENAR, an entity linked on its website to George Soros' Open Society Foundations, calls upon European Union (EU) institutions to "recognize Islamophobia as a specific form of racism." ENAR's cavalier invocation as "racism" of what has been analyzed as an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) developed "thought crime of the totalitarian future" portends problematical developments with respect to the treatment of Islam amidst its critics in Europe.
Relating "racism" to Islam asks the obvious, "are Muslims a race?" The Shadow Report does little to clarify the confusion, stating (page 2) that "Islamophobia describes an irrational fear, prejudice and hatred towards Islam, Muslims or Islamic culture." ENAR thus condemns not just animus against Muslim individuals, but also any undefined "irrational" opposition to Islam as an idea in faith or culture. Accordingly, the report condemns as "Islamophobia" (13) not simply "criminal damage to Islamic buildings and violence against Muslims" but also "opposition to, as well as protests against, the building of mosques," irrespective of any individual criticism of such mosques like the proposed New York City Ground Zero Mosque.
The Shadow Report similarly bemoans the poor public relations (PR) image concerning Islam and Muslims in Europe. While noting (4) that the "news media plays a critical role in shaping public opinion," the Shadow Report declares without any empirical substantiation that "news reporting of ethnic minorities...is generally negative and distorted." The report complains of a "tendency for the media to blame migrants and asylum seekers for high rates of unemployment and criminality."
In contrast, the Shadow Report recommends (5) that supposedly objective journalists "[u]se positive terminology and encourage positive media reporting about ethnic and religious minorities and migrants to emphasize their economic, social and cultural contributions to European societies." This would be part of what the report (5) describes as a desired "ethical journalism, protective of values such as equality and dignity." Similarly (6), the report calls upon authorities to "[r]eview school curricula to ensure that they take into consideration the presence of minorities and migrants and their contribution to culture and society, and contribute to overcoming stereotypes and promoting inclusion."
While promoting positive speech about Islam and Muslims along with other minority groups, the Shadow Report disturbingly calls for restricting negative speech on these matters. The Key Findings and the report (5) both advocate a "courageous approach to tackling hate speech and racist rhetoric in the public discourse" and a "zero tolerance policy to stigmatizing comments and terminology likely to incite violence, racism or other forms of discrimination." While most EU members (4) "have legal provisions in place for tackling hate speech...in some cases they are insufficient or ineffective."
Thus the report, in reiterating this charge on page 30, states that "[i]n some cases measures still need to be brought in." In particular, the report (5) deems "regulation of the internet" as "seriously inadequate and often completely lacking" even though "[s]ocial media and social networking sites have become a growing space for disseminating xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist discourse." EU members should accordingly "[r]einforce legislation to monitor hate on the internet and in the media."
The report (30) identifies Austrian politicians, "particularly from far-right parties," as "regular perpetrators of hate speech." The report references the October 14, 2011, acquittal of the provincial Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partie Österreichs or FPÖ) chairman in Styria, Gerhard Kurzmann, of incitement charges. The Styria FPÖ had posted on its website a game entitled Moschee Baba (Austrian slang for "Mosque Goodbye") in which players targeted mosques, minarets, and muezzins on screen, something that brought prosecution accusations of replicating a shooting gallery. The Shadow Report finds that this case "demonstrates the difficulty in successfully prosecuting hate speech in Austria, especially when the perpetrator is a public figure."
The Shadow Report raises several troubling questions with its vague and often unverified assertions. The report's reference to "positive media" about minorities such as Muslims raises suspicions about journalists going out of their way to spin news in a manner pleasing to Muslims. Such was the case with an October 6, 2001, resolution passed by the National Convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the previous month. Among other things, the resolution called for avoidance of "misleading" terms such as "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" that "link whole religions to criminal activity" as well as "jihad", a term whose "basic meaning" was "to exert oneself for the good of Islam and to better oneself." The resolution also called for any "writing about terrorism...to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity." On the other hand, the Associated Press (AP) in 2012 eliminated as inaccurate ENAR's vaunted "Islamophobia" along with other forms of "phobia" such as "Homophobia" from the AP Style Book.
Irrespective of spin, journalists seeking to portray Muslim communities in Europe positively will often have a difficult task. One recent news report, for example, stated that about 80% of Germany's 2.5 million citizens of Turkish ancestry live from state welfare benefits, with most of them poorly integrated into Germany society. Dutch politician Geert Wilders, meanwhile, internationally known for his condemnation of Islam, extensively documents in his book Marked for Death: Islam's War against the West and Me problems of deficient Muslim migrant assimilation into European society.
Careless "inclusion" of Muslims in school curricula can also present problems. The American organization Act for America, for example, has documented in a 229-page report an "historical revisionism" in American school textbooks "that seriously misrepresented the history and doctrines of Islam." A 2007 report on British schools, meanwhile, noted reticence on the part of some British teachers to treat the Holocaust for fear of encountering student Muslim anti-Semitism.
However politically correct, pro-Islam bias might distort academia or the media, in the hands of the law such favoritism can actually result in punishment for individuals not favorably inclined towards Islam. The Shadow Report complains of "insufficient" repression of "Islamophobia", yet recent history shows just how busy European prosecutors have been in pursuing a "zero tolerance policy" against even "stigmatizing" speech concerning Islam and Muslims. Imran Firasat, Lars Hedegaard, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, and Wilders can all personally testify that legal authorities throughout Europe have not been negligent, to quote President Barack Obama, in seeking out those "who slander the prophet of Islam" and his followers. The previous writings as well of this author on individuals running afoul of European law for criticizing Islam (see here, here, here, here, here, and here) also do not indicate any need for stricter restrictions of speech concerning Islam. Rather, they are being used as a weapon as against free and open debate.
Whether intentional or not, the Shadow Report manifests intellectual sloppiness in dealing with European minority communities such as Muslims. Instead of emphasizing academic and media accuracy concerning these communities, the report simply diffusely calls for not necessarily substantiated "positive" coverage of these groups. Nor does the report's treatment of free speech distinguish between statements attacking individual Muslims purely on their religious practices and open debate over the nature of Islam and the role of Muslims along with other groups in Europe. The Shadow Report's recommendations, for example, would only call into question yet more concerning Islam, such as stickers with crossed-out mosque images. Such politically- and legally-authorized feel-good fuzziness can only complicate future discussions of these important matters.
Andrew E. Harrod serves as a Legal Clerk for The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum. Mr. Harrod is also a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. This article was commissioned by The Legal Project.