From a Hungarian "security expert" justifying the Hanau shooting as "self-defence" on national TV to the BBC Question Time programme promoting anti-migrant ideas, these February 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.
HUNGARY – “Security expert” on public service media justifies the racially-motivated Hanau shooting as “self-defence” and “rational answer to immigration”
Date of publication: 21 February 2020
Author: László Földi, national security expert often hosted in pro-government television channels and former operations director for Hungary’s spy agency
Media outlet: Híradó M1, main morning news programme of MTVA, the Hungarian public broadcaster
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Introduced as a “security expert”, László Földi, was interviewed on the public service media's news channel M1 to comment on the Hanau shooting. On 19 February, 43-year-old Tobias Rathjen opened fire on two shisha bars killing nine people of foreign heritage in the German town of Hanau before killing his mother and himself. The police confirmed it was a terrorist attack and that the shooter had racist motives. Broadcast across the whole country, László Földi said that the violence by the far-right terrorist Tobias Rathjen was “a form of self-defence” in reaction to “jihadist attacks”, within a “secret civil war about which no one talks”. Földi then stated that far-right terrorist violence is “a rational answer to immigration”. He said that the “self-defense reflex called extremism” appeared in Germany because “their normal world” and “their normal life” was “ruined by strangers in small towns”. Földi also said that the German government immediately reacts to far-fight attacks and labels them as terrorism, but when it’s an immigrant perpetrator, then the government is lenient because of the alleged deprived situation of migrants. Földi stated that the society is not going to tolerate this for too long. Földi also stated that since 2015 there are millions of “outlaws” (undocumented migrants) in the country and that the national security forces are unable to act against them because of the presumption of innocence. The news presenter nodded and did not challenge any of these claims. In the whole 6-minute interview, László Földi did not condemn once the Hanau shooting nor any other far-right attacks.
Myth Debunked: László Földi, one of a handful of national security “experts” who serve the Orbán government, is a regular guest on Hungarian propaganda media. His anti-migration, as well as anti-NGO remarks are in line with the Orban government’s hostility towards migration. In 2017 Földi, who is the ex-Director of Operations in the Hungarian Intelligence Agency, told pro-government TV channel EchoTV that Hungarian human rights organisations are “collaborators, war criminals, traitors, […] essentially saboteurs who have no legal status. In other words, they can be freely liquidated. That’s what the war laws prescribe: spies and saboteurs are not taken to courts, they are immediately eliminated.” About migration, in the same year, he told the pro-government propaganda outlet Magyar Idők that “the vast majority of migrants do not want to integrate” and that “the conflict between migrant throngs and the natives will escalate and this could result in outright violence”. By framing racially-motivated murders as “self-defence” during his 6-minute interview at M1 news programme, László Földi is condoning and inciting hostility and violence against a minority group. And he did so on a public service media broadcast across the whole country, in front of a presenter who did not question his racist and discriminatory claims. Földi is endorsing the white supremacist ideology that “western” identity is being attacked by massive inflows of immigrants from non-European and non-white countries. These beliefs have influenced the literature consumed by people such as Breivik in Norway and Tarrant in New Zealand, who have eventually committed murders in the name of love for “their country” and “their people”. Hosting on national TV an “expert” who supports these beliefs as legitimate is dangerous and irresponsible.
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BELGIUM – Doorbraak.be Publishes Anti-Muslim Article Based on Irrelevant Context
Date of publication: 11 February 2020
Media outlet: Doorbraak.be, Belgian opinion website
Author: Johan Sanctorum
Headline: “Tournée Minérale? Okay, as long as it doesn't become a Tournée Halal”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article is about Tournée Minérale, a Belgian initiative which encourages people to abstain from alchohol in the month of February. This is similar to campaigns in other countries, like Dry January. For several years, the organisers, Foundation against Cancer and The Drug Line (VDA), have said that one reason to stop drinking alcohol is to prevent certain violent acts, such as fights in bars between intoxicated. The author of this piece in Doorbraak.be highlights this point specifically, and writes the piece as an open letter to campaign spokesperson Marijs Geirnaert. While the author starts by talking more generally about Belgian drinking culture, he quickly turns his attention to Islam, titling this section of the article “Alchohol and Sharia”. He states: “But the biggest denial, Marijs, of your thesis about family happiness is the religion that absolutely forbids alcohol as a diabolical invention, keeps tea at hectoliters, and nevertheless throws gays off the roofs, trades young girls and children as sex slaves, and for the rest curses the whole world that Allah and his prophet do not unconditionally worship. I am indeed talking about Islam, also in the Molenbeek version, where hatred for the decadent West and kafirs emerges from the tea houses, and not from the traditional inns, if there are any.” He continues: “I mean, Marijs: people with bad intentions don't need alcohol at all. See Paris, Zaventem and so on. Completely sober, religious madmen can cause the greatest catastrophes, perfectly halal when living bombs are walking around in an airport hall.” The author then suggests that perhaps having a beer with said ‘madmen’ would ‘calm’ things down.
Myth debunked: The author of this article seems to be grasping at straws to find an opportunity to criticise Islam and its followers. The Tournée Minérale campaign, and similar initiatives around the world, have been around for years. Their aim is to encourage people to drink less alcohol, and see the positive impact of this on their lives. The way the author links this with Islam and Muslims is confusing - if not shocking - and does not make any editorial sense. Sanctorum jumps from the connection between alcohol and violence to directly associating Islam and its followers with violence. He spreads some extremely hateful and generalising statements about Muslims, and throughout the piece associates Muslims with violence, at no point making any differentiation between Muslims and Islamic terrorists. The title of the article also alludes to a form of conspiracy theory, that Tournée Minérale would in some way introduce a more Halal culture in Belgium. The way the Tournée Minérale campaign is being used to spread hateful comments about Muslims is not surprising, coming from Doorbraak.be. We have reported on this platform in the past through the GTTO project: in September 2019, they quoted a very hateful anti-Muslim speech without providing any context or alternative views and in March 2019 they published an article explicitly blaming Islam for being a violent religion that poses security threats to Belgian society. The article is thus in line with Doorbraak.be’s anti-Muslim editorial stance, which makes it even more worrying. The constant hateful rhetoric used on the site against Muslims can easily influence a reader who is repeatedly exposed to it, and in turn, develop into real-life consequences.
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GERMANY – Far-right magazine uses sarcasm to attack Muslims as undeserving of a monument
Date of publication: 16 February 2020
Media outlet: Compact, German right-wing magazine
Headline: “SPD calls for a memorial for the suffering and a monument to the achievements of Muslims”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article follows a speech by the Social Democrat MP Helge Lindh given earlier this year at the German national parliament in which Lindh proposed a memorial for the suffering of Muslims and a monument to their achievements. In the wake of the Thuringia election debacle, and considering the fears of further anti-Muslim attacks after the Christchurch or Halle shootings, the MP aimed at building a positive image of Muslims to counter anti-Muslim sentiments. The piece by Compact mocks Lindh’s suggestion and gives ironic suggestions for a number of “reasons” as to why Muslims should receive a monument. One paragraph reads: “Let's put a monument to them for the countless kebab shops, the barbershops, the shisha bars, in which Germans are so very popular, and which enrich German culture notably.” Another paragraph focuses on relationship and family: “Let us set a monument to them for their lessons on how to treat women respectfully, who they - unlike the shameless Germans - dress modestly. For the upbringing of children who lovingly take care of their potato-eating classmates and treat their teachers with respect.” The author then continues, with the same sarcastic tone, to say that Muslims deserve a monument for being loyal “to Erdogan and their homeland” and for “their high-horsepower racing cars on the occasion of their wedding celebrations.” The article concludes by alluding to alleged Muslim violence occurring in Germany every day: “And yes: let's put a monument to all the discriminated, defenseless, threatened, persecuted, raped, and knifed Muslims: ideally on Berlin's Breitscheidplatz. This is the only way we can ‘explore the effects of structural racism on living together in our country,’ as Lindh concludes.”
Myth Debunked: This article perpetuates numerous anti-Muslim stereotypes, using irony and sarcasm. For example, by suggesting that Muslims deserve an award for their tolerance towards other religions, the article reproduces the myth that Muslims are inherently discriminatory and exclusionary due to their faith. According to a report by the Data & Society Institute, irony and in-jokes are strategically used by the far right. The use of sarcasm and humour allows the speaker to perpetuate racist views and narratives, while simultaneously distancing themselves from them. The ambiguity caused by irony often allows them to escape hate speech regulation of online spaces. Nevertheless, the consequences of ironic racism are serious and directly affect the targeted group. Even if sarcastic, the article by Compact is proposing an homogenous and stereotypical understanding of Muslim culture. This contributes to misconceptions about Muslims that lead to further discrimination. In this example, stereotypes are not just a simplified version of the targeted group. They also consolidate a narrow and exclusionary understanding of the national imagined community, policing who should be included within it. The article in Compact Magazin creates a juxtaposition between “us” (Germans) vs “them” (Muslims), with no possibility of overlapping, in which the crystalised traits of the “other” community are portrayed as inferior and malicious.
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UK – BBC Question Time Promotes Anti-Migrant Rant
Date of publication: 20 February 2020
Media outlet: BBC Question Time, a topical debate show in which guests from the worlds of politics and the media answer questions posed by members of the public
Description of the anti-migrant content: On the airing of BBC Question Time on February 20th, host Fiona Bruce and her panel (which included George Eustice MP, Alison McGovern MP, Howard Davies, Ash Sarkar, and Michael Portillo) tackled several audience questions on topics ranging from the proposed new UK points-based immigration system to kindness, the UK floods and public support of the BBC. One audience member asked a question, or rather shared a rant, which was extremely inflammatory and xenophobic, stating: “At what stage does the panel, and people think, that this country has had enough. That we should close the borders, completely close the borders. Because it’s got to the stage now: there’s no education, schooling, infrastructure. It’s enough, we are sinking. Surely someone has got to see common sense and say: enough is enough. You’ve got people flooding into this country who cannot speak English. I’ve come from London, in the National Health Service everything is written in different languages. How much is that costing? How much is it costing for the interpreters? [..] What sort of country is allowing this?” The full clip of the woman’s remarks was also posted on the BBC Question Time Twitter account, with the caption: “‘We should completely close the borders … enough is enough.’ This audience member says the number of people ’flooding in’ to the UK is costing public services too much. #bbcqt” Over two million people watched the broadcast live on TV, with an additional 6.4 million people viewing it later via the Twitter post.
Myth debunked: The premise of BBC Question Time is to allow the public to ask questions on topical issues. Immigration is one of those issues, with many members of the public engaging in debates around the newly proposed UK immigration system. The public should be given a platform to ask officials their views on such topics, with BBC Question Time being one of those providers. However, there is a stark difference between asking or critiquing, and spreading hatred. The woman in question stated many unfounded and false claims, all under the premise of an anti-migrant stance. The BBC allowed the hateful rant to air without providing any context or counterargument, and furthermore shared it on social media without any critical stance. This is dangerous, as it makes it seem like the BBC sees these hateful remarks as valid. Best for Britain, a cross-party campaign, responded to the incident: “Broadcasting such opinions to millions of people and framing them as valid, merely normalises the expression of such racist views.” As the British public service provider, the BBC has a task to inform the public. In this situation, the BBC should have provided critical context when sharing the clip on social media, giving a factual argument against the woman’s hateful claims. Many were disappointed with the BBC’s handling of the case, with one person responding on Twitter: “Please stop simply regurgitating and spreading intolerance, lies, and bigotry unchallenged. It's deeply irresponsible of you as a broadcaster.”
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FRANCE – Councillor incites religious discrimination in Twitter rant
Date of publication: 15, 16, 17 February 2020
Author: Agnès Cerighelli, counsellor in Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Media outlet: Twitter
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Agnès Cerighelli, local councillor in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, published a number of anti-Muslim tweets attacking some election candidates for their North African origins. Her first tweet about this topic was: “2 North African candidates for Paris?! Really, in a few years, France has changed..#Paris #GriveauxGate”. Numerous racist and anti-religious tweets followed, expressing her outrage at the possibility that two Muslim women could be elected officials. Cerighelli wrote: “The Republic is secular, France is Christian. I’m formally alerting @partisocialiste [the Socialist Party] and @lesRepublicains [The Republicans]. Wishing that Paris and Marseille are going to be led by North African women of Muslim religion is betraying France, its identity and History. #Elections2020FR”; and “The most urgent issue to solve is to know who is able to stop Rachida #Dati to become Mayor of Paris and to islamize the French capital. French naivety is terrible. Her election has only one goal: to serve the Muslim theocracies. #Paris2020”. Cerighelli insisted on the betrayal trope, accusing the mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye of being a traitor of the nation for approving the plan to build a mosque: “Any Mayor who claims to be Catholic and builds a mosque is an apostate. Worse, they are a traitor to the French Nation. @Arnaud_Pericard right-wing mayor of #StGermainEnLaye is unworthy of being Mayor of our city, cradle of French catholicism. #electionsMunicipales2020”.
Myth Debunked: With this series of tweets, Agnès Cerighelli, who is a former member of Macron's LREM party, is inciting racial and religious discrimination against people of North African origins and of (real or perceived) Muslim faith. Cerighelli’s statements imply that Muslim people, as well as people of North African origins, should not hold the position of elected officials. The local councillor is spreading unfounded concerns about the unsuitability of two candidates running in France’s upcoming municipal elections. They are presented in the tweets as a danger to democracy because they are expected by Cerighelli to “Islamise” France. This is purely based on their assumed religion, rather than on the manifesto of the parties the two candidates are representing or on their political stance on issues in the public interest. By saying that France is Christian, Cerighelli provides an exclusionary and simplistic understanding of French history and identity. She dismisses and erases the historical presence of other religions and ethnic groups in France, creating the false impression that this is a sudden and dangerous change. Her claims that French society is naive perpetuates a narrative of victimhood, in which inclusion and cultural diversity are framed as irrational or childlike desires. The Ministry of Interior has decided to initiate legal proceedings and GTTO partner Licra will be part of it. Licra condemned Cerighelli’s statements also on Twitter, receiving a high number of comments in support. Earlier this month Cerighelli had also been sentenced for publishing homophobic tweets evoking a so-called “LGBT lobby” defined as a “sect” using “dangerous methods”.
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GREECE– Major Newspaper Gives Platform Twice to Anti-Muslim Sentiments
Date of publication: 5 February 2020
Media outlet: Kathimerini, a leading Greek newspaper which is deemed as trustworthy by the general public. It is conservative-leaning.
Author: Eleana Vlastou and Kostas Theodoropoulos
Headline: “Obsession with racism is the new bigotry” and “White woman fears a Muslim man”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: On February 5th, newspaper Kathimerini published an opinion piece written by Eleana Vlastou. In the piece, Vlastou describes something she experienced on the London tube: a Muslim man taking out a prayer mat in order to perform prayer on the underground train. Vlastou states that she was scared for her life, but that she felt unable to complain because she is white and does not belong to a protected group: “'My son goes through my mind, and I think how prudent I have been with my will. He [the Muslim man] opens the zipper and from the bag comes a carpet which he lays down and uses to pray. Then the doors of the train open, relief. The car is empty and when I relax , it is just then that I realize the narcissism and the anger that was involved in the spectacle I just saw. If I was more courageous I would say to him ‘'Take your carpet and go home’' and he would have responded ‘You are one to talk, with your white privilege. You are a racist’ and I would respond ‘You are the racist.’” Vlastou continues to claim that as a white woman of privilege, she is discriminated against: “My problem is that I am not black, Muslim, I don't identify with a dog, I don't have a sex change problem, I am not gay, and I don’t belong to one of the letters of the LGBTQ acronym, I am not even a vegetarian. I am a white woman.” The main claim being made throughout the piece is that political correctness has ruined, in this instance, the UK (which is where Vlastou lives) and that as someone who is not part of any protected group, you are unable to criticise anyone without being called racist.
The comments under this piece have been turned off, and furthermore, Kathimerini published an additional response piece from their in-house journalist Kostas Theodoropoulos, in which he states: “I don't know Eleana Vlastou personally. [...] She is white, she has children, she has no financial problems, she is not a homosexual and she says she experienced a threat when, while she was commuting by the underground, a Muslim man took out his prayer mat and started praying. One could wonder how he was able to find where Meka was. The problem is that this poor writer doesn't belong to any minority, therefore she feels insecure in a society which more and more blames her own values in the name of (OR in order to protect the) minorities. I don't know if she is vegan. I would suggest to her she could try it. It is painless and it could act as an alibi in the court of the progressives.”
Myth debunked: The main issue here is the editorial approach taken by Kathimerini to publish two separate pieces which perpetuated the same hateful claims and statements. The initial opinion piece included clear anti-Muslim sentiments and made some very dubious claims. In essence, Vlastou is claiming that as a white privileged woman, she is discriminated against in the form of political correctness. We have to keep in mind that this was an opinion piece, and that there should be space in newspapers for hosting different opinions. However, Kathimerini made two very questionable editorial choices. Firstly, they disabled comments on Vlastou’s piece, leaving no room for people to counter or discuss her inflammatory claims. Secondly, the newspaper gave space to Theodoropoulos to essentially restate all already-made claims. Oftentimes, when newspapers or online publications publish a troubling or divisive piece, they will give a platform to someone else to counter statements made. This allows for both sides of the argument to be given the same amount of publicity, and give readers a fuller picture of the case in point. Kathimerini failed to do this. The topic of political correctness is very present in Greek society, and space should be given to have a discussion on it. However, this space has to be fair and not used to spread anti-Muslim sentiments.
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BELGIUM – Op-ed on Le Vif creates misunderstanding around Islam and antisemitism
Date of publication: 18 February 2020
Author: Nicolas de Pape, Senior Writer at Journal du Médecin
Media outlet: Le Vif, mainstream French-language news magazine
Headline: “European Jews: to stay or to leave?”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In an op-ed, Nicolas de Pape, a regular contributor at Le Vif and senior writer at Journal du Médecin (Doctor’s Journal), addresses the forms of antisemitism present in Europe that are pushing a number of Jewish people to leave their countries. The article mentions recent terrorist attacks against Jewish people, highlighting that “this violence comes from the same people that are victims of racism: radicalised Arab-Muslims”. After this, the journalist starts using inappropriate terms, such as “Islamofascism” and “Islamoleftism” without providing any explanation on what exactly they refer to, nor what his position on these terms is. The article states: “Over time, Islamofascism lost its anti-Jewish ‘monopoly’. In 2020, the Jew is now trapped between the plague of the far right and the cholera of Islamoleftism.” The following sentence also seems to suggest that Islam is responsible for antisemitism on the Left. Another paragraph claims that elected officials are no longer interested in protecting Jewish citizens because it’s not convenient for them in terms of electoral gains. The writer states: “No European state, despite cookie-cutter declarations [...], is able to really protect its Jews individually. These are no longer of interest to politicians who, in many towns and cities have other fish to fry.” In other words, the author is claiming that politicians are not addressing antisemitism because they want to please Muslim voters, who are more numerous than Jewish voters.
Myth Debunked: International and local organisations have warned about the alarming rise of antisemitism in Europe. Many articles have recounted how a number of Jewish people have considered the possibility of leaving Europe out of fear for their safety. As the European Jewish Congress (EJC) explains, “Antisemitism in Europe today knows no difference between left or right political creed, origin or religion. It is a heterogeneous phenomenon that expresses itself in a wide variety of different forms.” In other words, it is present among right-wing fascists, left-wing anti-Zionists, and radicalised Islamists. The article in Le Vif does state this, however, its argument relies heavily on problematic terms such as “Islamoleftism” and “Islamofascism”. These words are problematic as they combine two things (Islam and the Left; and Islam and Fascism) that are not directly related. Islamofascism has been controversially used to refer to terrorist Islamic movements or ideologies that show similarities to fascist movements of Europe in the twentieth century, in terms of totalitarian tendencies. While some, like journalist Christopher Hitchens, have defended the validity of the term in the years following 9/11, in the English-speaking world, the use of the term Islamofascism has drastically declined due to its conceptual ambiguity. The term Islamoleftism (Islamogauchism in French), as the newspaper Liberation explains, gained popularity in the 2000s to disparage people on the Left who are in solidarity with Muslims in their fight against racialisation and discrimination. It has been used by the far-right French politician Marine Le Pen Both to refer to an unhealthy alliance between "Islamist fanatics" and the French Left, Al Jazeera reported. In summary, when used uncritically, these terms evoke fears of something frightening, and undecipherable related to Islam, which creates misunderstandings about the religion and people of Muslim faith. In this context, they imply that Islam, as a religion, is antisemitic and responsible for creating antisemitism within the Left. The claim that politicians are neglecting issues of antisemitism because of the high demographic presence of Muslim voters is both divisive and unfounded. Not only did the author provide no evidence to this theory, but he also suggests that the struggles and the demands of minority groups are in competition with one another, rather than being united by the same goal to tackle racism and discrimination.
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