From a Greek newspaper proclaiming an anti-Muslim editorial stance to a Belgian political party spreading xenophobic news reports, these April 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 – Sputniks's Photo of Notre Dame Fire Fuels Islamophobic Comments
Date: 15 April 2019
Media Outlet: Sputnik France, Russian news agency operating in France. Western officials and observers have criticised Sputnik for being part of the "Kremlin misinformation machine."
Description of Anti-Muslim Content: The Facebook page of Sputnik France posted a photo of two non-white men smiling leaving the police cordon around Notre Dame Cathedral during the fire. The photo was published with no commentary by the news agency.
Myth Debunked: The choice of this photo, which shows two men laughing, and is in contrast with the abounding images of people saddened by the news of the fire, cannot be casual. As the many comments below the photo show, the two men are overwhelmingly assumed to be Muslim and are believed to be laughing while Notre Dame is burning. The fact-checking website Politifact wrote that research from several organisations show that the photo was authentic. Regardless of whether the photo was doctored or not, this image inserts itself into, and fuels, an existing narrative that sees Muslims rejoice at tragedies in the Western world. This is what people read when they see two non-white men apparently smiling at a site of an accident. This photo circulated on social media as supposed proof that Muslim people do not care about the destruction of the Cathedral. Given the current climate of xenophobia, incidents like this lead the public to draw wrong conclusions. In 2017, a similar case happened after the Westminster attack in London. A picture showing a woman with a hijab on Westminster Bridge walking past victims of the attack while looking at her phone was widely shared on Twitter and by anti-Islam platforms by way of evidence of her lack of concern, and extended as lack of concern by all Muslims. Other photos actually show the same woman in a state of distress and interviews with her reveal that she was calling her family to say she was safe. The Telegraph later reported that “one of the accounts which prompted the misleading image to go viral and fuelled a racist backlash was actually a troll backed by the Russian Government”. As with the case of the photo of the woman on Westminster Bridge, the two men laughing with Notre Dame in flames behind them is selective and misleading.
More to Read:
HUNGARY – State News Agency Spreads Fear-Mongering Lies on Refugees
Date of publication: First publication on 28 March 2019, followed by a number of articles in April 2019
Media outlets: MTI Hungarian News Agency and Hirado website, which are both part of the public service media.
Headline: “Migrant caravan is being prepared. The destination is Western Europe”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: On 28 March 2019, Hirado and MTI, both part of the public service media funded by the state published an article stating that ’40,000 migrants are about to set off from Turkey and Greece towards Central Europe, to be joined along the way by many more’. As the supposed day of the departure was April 5, the Hungarian national television and the pro-government Vadhajtások website sent a correspondent to Greece to follow the development of the story. By the morning of April 9, Hirado.hu, the news website of the public broadcaster, had published 28 articles and 11 videos about the imminent departure of what they referred to as “caravans”. The publicly funded M1 TV channel also ran the story continuously. They claimed that the departure of the caravans was being organised through social media by two Arabic civil society organisations and that European media wanted to silence the whole story.
Myth Debunked: The source of the initial report by MTI was the Budapest-based Migration Research Institute, jointly run by the Századvég Foundation (close to the ruling Fidesz party) and the publicly funded Mathias Corvinus Collegium. The story first appeared on the website Mandiner, which is run by András Tombor, a founder of the Collegium. From that date onwards, MTI dedicated full coverage to the story of the “caravans”, but its only sources were the Migration Research Institute and M1 TV news. They never referred to any information released in the Greek press or other Western news agencies. It seems that no other media in Europe covered events to the same level as Hungary, where 3-4 stories were broadcast or published every single day. While it seems to be true that there were social media posts encouraging refugees on their way to Europe to meet at a specific place on April 5 to set off, it is not clear who the authors were. While MTI blamed two Arabic NGOs (whose names do not appear on Google results except in the reports by Hungarian state-run media outlets), the Greek Ministry of the Interior claimed those behind it were smugglers. Propaganda media exaggerated the numbers of refugees arriving in Europe: not 40,000, as MTI claimed, but about 600 refugees gathered to wait for the buses promised in the Facebook posts that never appeared. In the run up to the European elections in May, this obsessive and deceitful media coverage shows how state-controlled media in Hungary, which regularly publish stories aligned with the government’s anti-immigration agenda, intensifies in the election period.
More to read:
UK – New Tommy Robinson Website Runs Sensationalist and False Anti-Muslim Article
Date of publication: 17 April 2019
Media Outlet: TR.news, website founded by Tommy Robinson claiming to “report the unreported news to the forgotten people of Britain.”
Author: Shazia Hobbs
Headline: “Shazia Hobbs – We Need to Talk About Islam”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article is authored by Shazia Hobbs, a writer who has written for far-right platforms such as Jihad Watch and has spoken at far-right political party For Britain rallies. It is a response to a piece written by Moazzam Begg for the Middle East Eye, in which he talks about the British far-right and Islamophobia. Hobbs starts her article by stating: “I believe that it’s time to talk honestly about Islam and the hatred that is contained within the verses of the Koran, the Hadiths and the Sira.” What follows is a series of inflammatory and at times false claims, all with clear anti-Muslim undertones. Hobbs claims that there are “churches being burnt down all across Europe” while Mosques are continually being built in Europe, many more than necessary according to her. She goes on to state that “Austria has the right idea of expelling Imams and shutting down mosques.” Hobbs also criticizes high profile Muslims like Begg for not “using their platform to speak about the rot at the heart of their communities, the racism, the rape of children, honor violence, forced marriage and domestic abuse.” To conclude the article, Hobbs seems to blame the violence perpetrated by the far-right against Muslims on Muslims themselves: “Maybe the so-called ‘far right’ would cease to exist if Islam stopped being a real and credible threat to us all.”
The TR.news website was set up by Tommy Robinson after he was kicked off all major social media websites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the former leader of the English Defence League and is currently the ‘grooming gangs adviser’ of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). TR.news has a similar structure to a regular news website; however, there is a clear far-right editorial policy, with the majority of articles focusing on the supposed rise of Islam in European societies, particularly the UK.
Myth debunked: This article uses several anti-Muslim tropes and makes sensationalist claims with little or no evidence. Hobbs claims that churches are being burned down all across Europe; however, when one looks for articles supporting these claims, there is very little to find. The only news platform that seems to actively report on this is German PI News (Politically Incorrect), a far-right news platform. There have indeed been very unfortunate cases where churches have been vandalized in Europe; however, the claim that churches are burning all around Europe is extremely sensationalist and paints an image of Christianity being under attack in Europe. This is specifically the case in this article, as Hobbs seems to link to supposed rise in Islam and Mosques to the burning of churches, an unsubstantiated claim in line with far-right narratives. The assertion that the far-right would no longer exist if Islam stopped being a threat to Europe is not only extremely insulting to all Muslims who have suffered abuse at the hands of the far-right but also fails to acknowledge the history of the far-right. The far-right did not emerge in response to Islam, as Hobbs seems to claim, but instead has a nationalistic background. More recently the far-right has largely focused its attention on Islam, but this does not mean that the far-right would cease existence if the ‘threat’ of Islam subsided. It seems Hobbs is blaming Islam for a multitude of issues in Europe, including the violent rise of the far-right, without any basis in fact.
We cannot debunk this article without mentioning the founder of TR.news; Tommy Robinson. He is well-known in the UK as belonging to the far-right and holding extreme anti-Muslim views. There is a clear and just reason why he has been banned from all major social media platforms; he continues to spread hate. It is for this reason that all articles on TR.news need to be taken with many grains of salt and also why this article by Shazia Hobbs featured on the website is not surprising. It is in line with the far-right narrative and tropes used often by Tommy Robinson and his followers, for which he has created a new platform in TR.news.
More to read:
BELGIUM – Far-Right Political Party Vlaams Belang Shares False Xenophobic News Report
Date: 19 April 2019
Media Outlet: Facebook page of Vlaams Belang, Flemish right-wing populist and nationalist political party
Description of the xenophobic content: Vlaams Belang shared an article on their Facebook page from the far-right media platform SCEPTR. The article is titled “A Year in prison for immigrant who rapes woman with mental disability” and is about a case in France where a man committed a horrific rape. The headline, however, refers to the man as an ‘allochtoon’, which is a derogatory term for migrant. Not only is this unnecessarily inflammatory, but it is also incorrect. The original article which the SCEPTR piece is based on was published by news website Het Laatste Nieuws, which reports that the man is from the North of France and refers to him in their article as a Frenchman. There is no information to suggest anything other than the perpetrator is French, so it is unclear why SCEPTR, and also Vlaams Belang, refers to the man as ‘allochtoon’. We can assume that the criminal’s name, Abdelfatah, has something to do with this incorrect conclusion.
It is important to note that this is not an isolated case for Vlaams Belang. They routinely report about shocking crimes which they allege are committed by migrants along with statements like “how long are we going to support this?” and “we are importing criminals”, specifically calling for a reduction in migration from Muslim countries. They have also referred to migrants as ‘allochtonen’ in past Facebook posts.
Myth debunked: Vlaams Belang is a political party in Belgium, and with this comes a certain responsibility. The party is known for its far-right stance; however, this is no excuse for sharing biased and incorrect information, and for using derogatory terms such as ‘allochtoon’. ‘Allochtoon’ means ‘emerging from another soil’ and while it was originally intended to be used as a neutral term, the some? media has used the word to unfavourably distinguish ‘allochtoon’ people from the rest of society. In response to this, the Dutch government decided stop using the word in 2016. It is clear that Vlaams Belang is using such terminology to spark anger and frustration, something which we can see reflected in the comments left under this specific Facebook post, and similar ones posted by the party in the past. Many comments refer to a supposed ‘Muslim invasion’ and claim Muslims are violent people who do not belong in Europe. Vlaams Belang continues to share extremely biased content to spur such reactions from its followers, which it then in turn uses for political gain. The Belgian elections will be taking place in less than one month, on the 26th of May, therefore it is vital to call out this type of behaviour by politicians. No political party should gain prominence on the back of hate and false claims.
More to read:
BELGIUM – La Libre Perpetuates Stereotypes of Veiled Muslim Women as Victims
Date: 26 April 2019
Media Outlet: La Libre
Description of Anti-Muslim Content: This article is an opinion piece by “a collective of women and men of Muslim culture or Muslim origin”. They claim that the introduction of the hijab to society is a political act by political Islam and that it “imposes itself in parallel with the Islamisation of societies”. They also state that the hijab is a “sexist, humiliating, alienating prison” and that little girls are ordered to wear it “to get used to be ashamed of their bodies and to prepare them to become sexual objects”.
Myth Debunked: This article perpetuates the stigmatisation of Muslim women who wear the hijab and their representation as victims: “undeserving victims” when they are blamed for their victimhood, and “deserving victims” when they are pitied. Some Muslim women have the headscarf imposed on them, either because it is mandatory in the society they live in or because of unwanted family pressure. The work of the Iranian Nasrin Sotoudeh, human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender, mentioned in the article, who represented women persecuted for removing their headscarf, is of the utmost importance. However, many Muslim women wear the hijab because it’s their own decision to do so. And their reasons are plenty: some might see it as a way to resist certain standards of feminine beauty, or to assert their identity, while some wear it because it’s normal practice in their family, or because they see it as a symbol of cultural solidarity . Saying that wearing a hijab in Europe is “a political act by political Islam” fully ignores this. But saying that the “hijab is sexist and humiliating” hides the fact that, for women, “uncovering” could, and has sometimes been, a tool of oppression too.
More to Read:
GERMANY – Far-right Blog Frames Muslims As Existential Threat to Christians Worldwide
Date of publication: 25 April 2019
Media Outlet: Philosophia Perennis – one of the largest far-right alternative media blogs in Germany whose main selling point spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric
Headline: “Killings of Christians have doubled worldwide”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article addresses the worldwide killings of Christians which has apparently increased sharply between 2017 and 2018 according to a recently published report by the Christian charity “Open Doors”. However, the article quickly becomes anti-Muslim and asks rhetorically whether “papal visits to Islamic rulers” or alleged “special rights of Muslims in Europe” could be seen as “capitulation and weakness by the Islamic community, which in turn might find expression in a higher propensity to violence, right up to terror”. While the report does include killings of Christians by radical Islamic groups, the article creates an “us versus them” dichotomy between Muslims and Christians. Specifically, it frames tolerance for all religious groups, including Muslims as negligent behaviour towards a hostile group. This article speaks of “feeble harmony-addicted elites” or “tolerance-drunken left-green teddy bear throwers”, and it holds that “Christians are declared animals for slaughter”. It also confuses the real dangers of global killings of Christians with migration to Germany, invoking popular far-right disinformation talking points such as alleged “no-go areas”. It also uses the frame of Muslim attackers “as warriors, as conquerors” which contributes to the idea of an epic conflict between Christians and Muslims in which every misdeed by a Muslim is framed as an act of war.
Myth debunked: While it is indeed the case that violence against Christians has increased worldwide, this is actually true for many religious groups. Religious violence has increased significantly for almost every religious denomination over the last decade. Thus, while the article is right in condemning violence against Christians, framing Muslims as a global threat for Christians is disingenuous to say the least. Interpreting the world along in-group/out-group lines and artificially adding the element of existential conflict is by no means a novel approach, especially for the far-right. However, it remains toxic and dangerous because it can lead people to feel a perceived pressure to act – as we have unfortunately seen repeatedly in the recent past, this can culminate in violent outcomes such as the Christchurch mosque massacre from March 2019.
More to read:
GREECE – Right Wing Newspaper Dimokratia Proclaims Anti-Muslim Stance
Date: 22 April 2019
Media Outlet: Dimokratia, a popular Greek newspaper
Headline: “Our position - The Islamist’s’ Sacred War”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Dimokratia newspaper published a column in their print version declaring their position on the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks. The column directly targets Islam and Muslims worldwide, claiming that “Islam is an aggressive religion which implements itself with the sword.” It continues by stating that “Islam is incompatible with democracy and gender equality’’ and that “Islam considers Christianity an enemy and fights relentlessly for the extermination of its following.” The column was shared online by other websites including Vima Orthodoxias, a conservative pro-Orthodox website covering religious affairs. This column was not an isolated incident for Dimokratia; four days later the newspaper published an opinion piece which stated that no distinction should be made between Islamic terrorists and Muslims. The piece, authored by Eleni Papadopoulou, went on to claim that Islam is being imposed by illegal migrants in Christian European counties, posing a serious safety challenge.
Myth debunked: Dimokratia is well-known daily circulation newspaper in Greece. However, any newspaper, no matter its popularity, political or moral affiliation, has a duty to report on issues in an ethical, responsible and unbiased manner. It is for this reason that this column is particularly troubling, as it proclaims the newspaper’s official stance on the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks, a stance which is clearly anti-Muslim. Not only it is still unclear who exactly was behind the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks, but national authorities are still in an investigation process. In addition, to refer to terrorists and Muslims as one in the same is not only incorrect but also extremely insulting towards Muslims. The content published by Dimokratia on the Sri Lanka terrorist attacks is a series of unprofessional content in the form of assumptions which could really harm people. Painting the religion as violent is something that is actively being spread in Europe. Stereotyping by producing stories of ‘’invasion’’ are anti-Muslim tropes we see time again by far-right media.
More to read: