From the publication of a list of politicians with alleged Jewish origins to the dissemination of groundless fears about terrorism over Christmas, these December highlights are an overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
FRANCE – President of Secular Forces associates Yellow Vests with Muslim Brotherhood
Date of broadcasting: 3 December 2018
Media outlet: Les Voix de l'Info, a current affairs TV show on CNEWS.
Author: Laurence Marchand-Taillade, founder of the Observatory on Secularism of Val d’Oise and president of Secular Forces.
Description of the anti-Muslim content: During the TV show Les Voix de l’Info, Laurence Marchand-Taillade, president of the Secular Forces movement, said that the violent rioters among the Yellow Vests who are from the suburbs have developed a strategy of destabilisation based on speculated methods used by the Muslim Brotherhood. As a source for her claims, Laurence Marchand-Taillade used “Egyptian newspapers” which she defended as “completely serious”. She also said that the violent modus operandi are the same used during the Arab Spring in Egypt. The host, journalist Sonia Mabrouk, did not challenge these claims nor call them out for their inflammatory connotation.
Myth debunked: The Yellow Vests (Les Gilets Jaunes) are named after the high-visibility tops drivers, by law, have to carry in their vehicles, and that have become a symbol of their protest. As the BBC explains, the Yellow Vests are a movement which “cuts across age, job and region, and includes members of the working and middle classes, all affected by the higher cost of living”. The Yellow Vests protests started in November 2018 to protest against a sharp increase in diesel taxes. Since then, however, their demands have expanded and the protestors are expressing their general anger at higher living costs in France, as well at the economic policies of the President Emmanuel Macron. Claiming that the rioters are using methods used by the Muslim Brotherhood distorts the reality of what has been happening in France since November. Attributing blame to Muslim people is a misleading and inaccurate representation of the protests. It also exposes Laurence Marchand-Taillade’s intention to point the finger at one specific religious group. The Egyptian sources quoted by Laurence Marchand-Taillade are not robust. As the Middle East Eye writes, conspiracy theories about the Yellow Vests have abounded in UAE and Egypt: “pro-government press in Egypt have published reports accusing the Brotherhood - or even the Islamic State - of being behind the yellow vests.” These accusations by the pro-government press in Egypt are probably to discourage the development of any similar movements in their country.
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GREECE – National far-right daily singles out politicians for their alleged Jewish origins
Date of publication: 1 December 2018
Media Outlet: Eleftheri Ora, far-right daily newspaper
Headline: “It’s all Jews’ fault, Prime ministers and Ministers with the… Star of David?”
Description of the antisemitic content: On its front page, Eleftheri Ora presents photographs of 14 well-known Greek politicians, including the former President of Greece Karolos Papoulias and six former Prime Ministers, alleging that they all have Jewish origins and that they work to implement “secret policies” to promote “Jewish interests”. To prove their Jewishness, the paper refers to what it claims to be the politicians’ original names that have been changed, by themselves or their families, to hide their origins. This conspiracy theory, which attributes Jewish origins to many politicians, has flourished since the former prime minister Kostas Simitis was first ’revealed’ to be Jewish because his family name means “Semitic” in Greek. The allegations were based on a recent CNN poll according to which a fourth of Europeans believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance. While maliciously inviting the readers to reflect on their opinion, the author disseminates hatred by claiming that many Greek government officials have Jewish origins.
Myth debunked: Eleftheri Ora has a history of antisemitic articles with outlandish assertions. Regardless of whether the politicians mentioned by the newspaper have Jewish heritage or not, it is irresponsible to single out individuals for being part of an alleged Jewish conspiracy on the front page of a national newspaper with no evidence. This sort of modern witch-hunt against Jewish people by Eleftheri Ora is reminiscent of the persecutions under Nazism, when many Jewish people, tried to hide their true identities through various means in order to survive. By inciting hatred, the Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda facilitated the persecution and ultimately the annihilation Europe's Jewish population. In a similar fashion to Eleftheri Ora’s front page, Nazi propaganda represented Jews as engaged in a conspiracy to provoke war, or to control powerful enemies behind the scenes (indirectly). Eleftheri Ora’s antisemitic claims followed a month in which there were at least three incidents of vandalism against Jewish monuments and cemeteries in Greece.
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GERMANY – Far-right news site spreads groundless fears about terrorism over Christmas
Date of publication: 2 December 2018
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”) is a far-right news website that defines itself as “Against the Mainstream, Pro-American, Pro-Israel, Against the Islamisation of Europe, For Fundamental Laws and Human Rights”
Headline: “’Allahu Akbar!’ Muslim with a hatchet threatens visitors at Christmas market”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article reports that a drunk middle-aged man threatened shoppers by swinging a hatchet and repeatedly shouting “Allahu akbar!” at a Christmas market in the town of Witzenhausen. The article speculates that, if the man was not intoxicated by alcohol, he would probably have killed several people, and continues: “But now he will presumably simply diagnosed with alleged ‘traumatisation,’ ‘psychic disorder’ or other ‘southerner maladies’ by way of a mitigating circumstance, and presumably he will be found immune of criminal responsibility because he was intoxicated”. The article ends with a provocation: “Maybe next time [something will happen] when he attacks, and ‘peaceful Islam’ will trickle down the street in crimson colour again. There are still three weeks until Christmas, so there is still plenty of time for Islamic beheading and explosives rituals”.
Myth debunked: This article presents speculation, double standards, and bigotry that have no place in journalism. Predicting that the man would have killed several people if he was not drunk is conjecture without any evidence. Based on the information they have, the journalist just cannot tell. The article rejects the notion that there are mitigating factors when it comes to Muslim offenders. On the contrary, it heavily implies that, when a crime is committed by a Muslim person, criminal responsibility can be assumed even before any violence took place”. The journalist claims that every time an immigrant from the Global South is involved in an offense, mitigating circumstances such as mental illness are used to “excuse” the behaviour of that offender. The hyperbole and insinuations in the last paragraph of the article fuel irrational fears by linking Islam and Muslims to violence in the streets. By mentioning Christmas, it also juxtaposes such violent acts (“Islamic beheading and explosives rituals”) with Christian cultures at the receiving end.
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BELGIUM – Flemish nationalist politician gives inflammatory speech against migrants and Muslims
Date of publication: 17 December 2018
Media Outlet: Social media pages of Schild en Vrienden
Author: Dries van Langenhove, head of the far-right organisation Schild en Vrienden
Description of the anti-Muslim content: During a march against the Marrakesh UN agreement on migration in Brussels, Dries van Langenhove, head of the extreme right-wing organisation Schild en Vrienden, gave an inflammatory speech attacking traditional media for becoming a pro-migration propaganda machine, and left-wing media for their political correctness when covering migration in Flanders. According to him, Muslim terrorist attacks are generally reported as “incidents” and Muslim terrorists as “confused men”. In his speech, he also claimed that while there is a “wave of criminality by migrants”, the media portrays migrants as “small children” and “victims”. On this occasion, as well as many in the past, Dries van Langenhove also claims that there is a plot by the media to silence him “because he tells the truth”.
Myth debunked: Dries van Langenhove has recently become very popular among the extreme right youth in Flanders. The claim that he is constantly censored by the media and that he is a “martyr of political correctness” can be disproven by looking at his recent media coverage. Van Langenhove was ranked 11th on a list of the most popular people in Flanders in 2018 by the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. A TV documentary, which aimed to expose the violent views of his organisation, had the effect of increasing his notoriety. While it is true that the hate content in Dries van Langenhove’s video prompted Facebook to ban his account for 30 days, the footage is still available on other platforms such as YouTube and has been widely reported by most of the newspapers in Flanders. And yet, he claims that he is censored because he tells the truth. Van Langenhove is partially right to criticise media standards when it comes to the coverage of terrorist attacks, but for the opposite reason. For example, terror attacks by Muslims receive 357 percent more press attention in the U.S., according to a study by the University of Alabama. Van Langenhove’s claim that media do not call “terrorist attacks” the criminal actions committed by a Muslims perpetrator is wrong. Contrary to what Van Langenhove states, analyses show that attackers are generally labelled “terrorist” when the perpetrators are Muslim (and the whole race or religion bears the blame) and “lone wolf” when they are white (and only the individual bears the blame).
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HUNGARY – Pro-government news portal spins story to fuel fears of “Islamisation” in Europe
Date of publication: 12 December 2018
Media Outlet: Origo, a pro-government news portal. It changed its editorial stance in 2015, moving from being critical of the Fidesz-led government to becoming more government-friendly in its political reporting
Headline: “Full submission: In Belgium, Christian pupils are taken to a mosque”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article reports that, in Belgium, some Christian pupils were taken to a mosque and “forced to pray in the way Muslims do”. This is described as an unacceptable event that, according to Origo, shows how Belgium is being submissive to Muslims: “We can therefore safely say that Belgians are already preparing for full surrender”. The news site claims that Muslim children are not taken to Christian churches, and that it would be seen as outrageous if this did happen: “Think about how much disgust there if the situaiotn were reversed. Where are the human rights defenders?”
Myth debunked: This article does not disclose any of the original sources for the information provided, and therefore cannot be fact checked. The video, mentioned as a proof, is not available and the link to a tweet leads to a suspended account. No context is provided either, making it hard to establish whether the pupils were “forced to pray”, as the article says, or if they were taken to a mosque learn about Muslim religion and culture. The reverse assumption, which claims that civil rights defenders would be outraged to learn that Muslim pupils are being taken to Christian churches, is not a sound argument because the societal norms in Belgium are based on Christian traditions. The comparison does not take into account the relationship between a Christian majority and a Muslim minority, which makes it illogical to equate the two. This article is a striking example of unprofessional journalism, in line with the decline of what was once a high-quality news portal.
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UK – Sputnik reporting draws undue attention to perpetrator’s religion
Date of publication: 17 December 2018
Media Outlet: Sputnik, media outlet established by a Russian government-owned news agency
Headline: “UK Muslim 'Husband' Admits Hunting Down, Murdering Syrian-Born Woman and Mother”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This piece reports the facts around the murder of a woman and her mother at the hands of the woman’s ex partner. While the article is generally neutral and unbiased in its reporting, the headline highlights the religion of the perpetrators, presenting it as if it is relevant to explaination of the crime. More professional media outlets reported the same story but did not mention the murderer’s religion. The police statement, whose tweet was also embedded in the article, does not state the man’s faith either.
Myth debunked: By choosing to lead a story with the religion of the perpetrator, even though the faith has nothing to do with the crime committed, the author misleads the readers into thinking that religion was relevant. Article after article, this also leads readers to draw erroneous conclusions and make sweeping generalisations about people of the same religion. This is particularly dangerous considering that, most of the time, the religion is only mentioned when the perpetrator is Muslim, and ignored for other religions. This repeatedly happens in media coverage of domestic abuses, terrorism, and child grooming. Domestic violence is not specific to Islam and can be found across different cultures and countries. Attributing it to one religion leads to negative stereotypes that can marginalise Muslim minorities.
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BELGIUM – News site contributes to feeding outrage over Toblerone’s halal certification
Date of publication: 17 December 2018
Media Outlet: 7sur7, news outlet based in Brussels
Headline: “What you probably didn’t know about Toblerone”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article reports that Toblerone chocolate received its halal certification in April 2018. Although the recipe had not changed, the ingredients have been slightly altered and now there is no risk of contact with pork or alcohol. The tone of the article, as well as the specific choice of words (“What you didn’t know”, “in all discretion”, “did not want to reveal”) makes it look like the owner of the Toblerone brand, the US food group Mondelez , was involved in a secret conspiracy to please Muslim buyers to the detriment of others.
Myth debunked: Halal is an Arabic word that refers to food, drinks, objects, or behaviours that are permissible according to Islamic law. Halal designation is applied to food that excludes alcohol and pork and, when meat is present, it requires that animals are slaughtered in a specific way. Not having pork, or alcohol, in a bar of milk chocolate is not particularly surprising or remarkable. Yet, the article makes it sound like the company is “guilty” of secretly changing the recipe for “Muslim purposes”. Framing the story in this way is journalistically irresponsible as it encourages the dissemination of xenophobic narratives on “Islamisation” in Europe and on Muslim people as a covert threat to the West. Once the news on the halal certification was published across European media, it sparked outrage within the far-right, who started boycotting Toblerone. What the boycotters choose to ignore is that Toblerone has always met the halal criteria anyway and that most of the food they produce is already halal-friendly.
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