The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published its 2014 Annual report in which it identifies “a growing trend” in Islamophobia and online hate speech in the last year.
The report finds that European countries are witnessing “a growing trend of Islamophobia,” where Islam is often represented as incompatible with democracy.
The ‘British values’ narrative repeatedly used by the UK Government when addressing extremism and radicalisation feeds into this growing trend with Muslims often perceived as “disloyal” to the UK.
Implying that Muslims inherently struggle with Western values fosters the “us versus them” concept and completely disregards the clear integration of Muslim communities into the wide variety of cultures across Europe.
According to the ECRI report populist political parties have exploited political rhetoric using the rise of extremism and ‘Islamist movements’ as reasons to distrust Muslims on the whole and to view Muslims as threat to national security.
Last month Prime Minister David Cameron blamed Muslims for radicalism in Britain, accusing communities of “quietly condoning” extremists. The PM argued Muslims need only to have “prejudices” to give “the extreme Islamist narrative weight.”
The ECRI also note an increase in political movements that focus on “the alleged Islamisation of Europe,” merging anti-Muslim rhetoric with “general xenophobic sentiments.”
PEGIDA, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, are a Dresden-based anti-“Islamisation” group who have gathered supporters in the UK recently, staging at least three protests in the last year. The group’s UK leader, Matthew Pope, is said to have called for Islam to be banned, stating: “As it is impossible for Muslims to re-adapt Islam to the 21st century, we only have one choice….. Make Islam illegal.”
The ECRI report warns of a “dangerous spiral” of interconnected forms of racism emerging in Europe.
ECRI recognises the problem posed by radicalisation and the manipulation of young Muslims by extremists adding that there are far more Muslims falling victim to the growing trend of Islamophobia with Muslim women who wear headscarves receiving a disproportionate amount of anti-Muslim verbal abuse and harassment.
Furthermore, the report warns that this trend thwarts integration efforts, isolating Muslims from society, thus leaving many more vulnerable to radicalisation.
The Commission’s annual report discusses the increased levels of discrimination faced by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants entering Europe stating they face “detention, insufficient social assistance and a hostile public opinion,” the report notes.
The Commission points towards the financial strain after the economic crisis in Europe as a leading reason as to why public sympathy for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, is very low. Opinions have hardened, with these groups being seen as competition for jobs and housing, rather than vulnerable and in need of help.
“Increasingly, the various groups of migrants are not seen as contributing to enriching European societies, but as a threat to accustomed standards of wealth and social stability,” the report states.
A YouGov poll last month found that the UK public’s support for refugees is deteriorating. In 2015, those against offering refuge was found to outnumber those in favour of providing support, 42% compared to 34% and the results showed an 11% year on year increase in those saying the UK should not offer refuge.
The Commission note that this wave of “anti-immigration rhetoric” in the public sphere has been exploited by parties, particularly during the European Parliament elections in May 2014.
“Multiculturalism was portrayed as a dangerous notion and a concept that has failed and is no longer desirable. Political parties with such an outlook achieved substantial electoral gains and even emerged as the strongest force in some countries,” according to the report.
The right-wing party, UKIP, did triumph in the 2014 European elections, receiving the largest share of the national vote at 27.5%.
ECRI criticises the growth of hate speech spread through social media, and encourages member States to sign and ratify the Council of Europe’s Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime criminalising online racism and discrimination.
In fact , the report notes that only 18 out of the 47 states of the Council of Europe have ratified Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibits discrimination in general and calls on remaining states to do so as a matter of urgency.