From a Minister insinuating that people with migrant backgrounds are not compatible with Belgian society, to the usage of an unrelated image of young girls wearing headscarves to accompany an article about sex workers in Pakistan, 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.
GREECE – Major Newspaper Publishes Article Based on Misinformation and Pushing Far-Right Tropes
Date of publication: 9 April 2020
Media outlet: Newsbomb.gr, news website which is amongst the top three most popular news websites in Greece
Headline: “Coronavirus: What happened to the ban of loudspeakers in the mosques of Komotini?”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article is about measures taken by the Greek government around coronavirus and subsequent social distancing. The Greek government has banned religious gatherings of every religion and many forms of public religious expression that would threaten the lockdown by attracting believers to churches (such as the ringing of the bell in churches or the use of loudspeakers during mass). The article presents videos taken in the north-eastern region of Komotini in Greece, which has a large Greek Muslim community, that show mosques using loudspeakers to invite believers to pray 5 times per day. The article stated: “Huge social media uproar was caused by videos where the muezzin can be clearly heard to call for prayer (from April 6 to 12) in Komotini's mosques, however without the presence of citizens. Many wondered why loudspeakers were banned in Orthodox churches, while in mosques in Komotini the loudspeakers were in operation - The following videos that were published by citizens reasonably caused big questions - What exactly happened?” The article later explains that the videos were actually taken before the Greek government implemented measures prohibiting the use of loudspeakers in religious practices. The author concludes with posing the questions: "Up to which point will this absurdity continue? Except it is not absurdity and it is something more serious. Maybe some people don't want any element of "Greekness" and Orthodoxy to be even heard. Maybe some have decided to disconnect Hellenism from Orthodoxy in every structure of our life as a nation."
Myth debunked: The main issue with this article is misinformation and misleading the reader. The headline and opening statement of the article seem to suggest that mosques in Komotini continue to use loudspeakers for their call to prayer despite the law passed by the Greek government, disobeying authorities. However, as they later state themselves, this is not the case. The videos were taken before the measures were implemented and have since been suspended, obeying the laws in place. Far down in the article the author actually embeds an official statement from the Mufti of Komotini explaining exactly this. So why is the article structured as if the Muslim community in Komotini is disobeying Greek law, and receiving special exemption?
There is a clear narrative being pushed in this piece, which is especially evident in the statement towards the end of the article, which claims that ‘some people’ want to eliminate elements of ‘Greekness’ and ‘Orthodoxy’ from the country. Here, the author is suggesting that there are people in Greece who want to get rid of the culture and replace it with something else. While it is not explicitly stated, we can assume that the author is talking about Muslims in Greece, as this is who the article is talking about. These statements are resonant of the Great Replacement Theory, which is explained by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue as: “A theory that argues that white European populations are being deliberately replaced at an ethnic and cultural level through migration and the growth of minority communities. This propagation relies on demographic projections to point to population changes in the West and the possibility that ethnically white populations are becoming minority groups. Certain ethnic and religious groups – primarily Muslims – are typically singled out as being culturally incompatible with the lives of majority groups in Western countries and thus a particular threat.” While the author of this article is subtle, the language and themes he is using are in line with this theory. Being one of the top three news sites in Greece, this is extremely dangerous to promote to such a large audience. Not only is this article based on misinformation, but it is pushing far-right tropes.
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FRANCE - Magazine Causeur vilifies the Muslim call to prayer as an act of domination
Date of publication: 8 April 2020
Author: Aurelién Marq
Media outlet: Causeur, a right-wing monthly magazine
Headline: “The muezzin and the bells. The cultural insecurity goes one step up”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article focuses on adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, during the coronavirus pandemic and on the reasons why it is problematic. It states that “mosques are taking advantage of the health crisis to sneakily sound the adhan” and that “it cannot be put on the same level as church bells”. Using very strong language, the author sees the Muslim call for prayer as a provocative act of dominating territory: “Yes, these adhans which resound - [...] in a foreign language - are demonstrations of force, provocations, attempts to occupy a territory: sound, physical, and even more symbolic occupation.” What prompted this Islamophobic reflection is an episode of solidarity which happened in the city of Lyon when mosques joined the church bells to support the morale of key workers during the pandemic. The author of the article in Cauzeur claims that Islam is a violent religion that “condemns to death apostates and atheists”, and “threatens and persecutes homosexuals”. He insists that the church bells cannot be compared to the Muslim calls to prayer because they are not a “cry of bloody totalitarianism”, and they are not the “explicit negation of all beliefs apart from those of those who ring them”.
Myth Debunked: The Muslim call to prayer is an integral part of the Muslim religion and culture, used to remind the faithful, five times a day, that it’s time to pray. In Muslim-majority countries, the call to prayer is broadcast via outdoor loudspeakers, but in Europe, there are restrictions to this public chant and, with few exceptions, it is played only inside mosques or community centres. The rector of the Lyon's Grand Mosque explained that playing the adhan on the 25th of March was a way of Muslims and Catholics to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation together, as it has been done in the past few years. It was also used to express solidarity to all the people involved in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, echoing the decision of the Conference of Bishops of France to ring church bells at 7:30 pm. The leader of the National Rally, Marine Le Pen, was one of the first to claim that some mosques in France were “taking advantage” of the confinement rules and that the broadcasting was an “illegal occupation of public space through sound”. This narrative circulated in Britain too, generating demographic conspiracies theories on the intentional replacement of white people in Europe. Contrary to what Causeur and the far-right claim, chanting the adhan on 25 March in Lyon was not a provocation. It was an interfaith action as well as an act of civic participation. Several mosques across Europe have also broadcast the call for prayer to give Muslims some comfort during these difficult times. The counter-posing of Islam, as a violent and narrow-minded religion, and Christianity as a peaceful and tolerant religion, is a racialised discourse that others Muslims and perpetuates an exclusionary conception of national identity. The celebration of church bells, and rejection of the adhan as legitimate and illegitimate elements of a city’s soundscape, forms part of this discourse, normalising white Christian culture as national heritage. whilst excluding other religious practices as invasive and alien.
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UK – The Independent Using Inappropriate Image Misrepresenting Young Muslim Girls
Date of publication: 14 April 2020
Media outlet: The Independent, British daily newspaper
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The Independent published an article titled “In Pakistan, sex workers face a cruel dilemma.” The article explores how sex workers in Pakistan are affected by the coronavirus and social distancing measures, and are not properly protected. When promoting the article on Facebook, The Independent used an image of young girls wearing head scarfs. The article at no time mentions underage girls or Islam, and so it was confusing to many why this picture was chosen. Many complained to the publication, who changed the image to one which showed coronavirus emergency workers, which is much more relevant to the content of the article.
Myth debunked: The image and headline that accompanies a news article are just as important, and sometimes even more powerful, than the content of the piece. This is especially the case when it comes to promoting articles on social media platforms, where many people will scroll past a post like this without reading the article. In such a case, what message is being sent? They equate the headline, which refers to sex workers in Pakistan, with young Muslim girls and likely form assumptions, whether that is consciously or not. The Independent’s choice to use this image to accompany the article is both unwarranted and unethical, and can lead people to act on ill-informed assumptions that negatively affect minorities, in this case Muslims. It is likely that the person responsible for choosing this image did not consciously pick it to convey this negative narrative; however, this is precisely the problem. Media organisations need to be more aware of the pictures they are choosing, and the impact of them. We covered this topic recently, focussing on the bias often displayed through stock photography, and concluded: “So why are journalists and editors still making ill-informed decisions when it comes to news and media images? It seems that oftentimes, they are unaware of their bias and the effect this can have on communities.”
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HUNGARY - Origo Uses Coronavirus Crisis to Stoke anti-Muslim sentiment
Date of publication: 16 April 2020
Media outlet: Origo, a pro-government news site that serves the views of the ruling Fidesz party
Headline: “British doctors are scared of gatherings during Ramadan”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article claims that British doctors are “terrified” of the effect that Ramadan celebrations are having on the spread of coronavirus. Below a sensationalistic and fear-mongering headline, the standfirst of the article is more cautious: “No one can predict in advance whether and to what extent the practices of the Islamic holy month beginning next week will increase the spread of the coronavirus. In Europe, the British are most afraid of this, but whether their fear is unfounded or not will only become clear at the end of May.” Despite initially downplaying the concern, the article continues by fueling anger and fear against the Muslim community who are accused of being a threat to society. For its sources, the article uses a tweet by a Daily Mail journalist, a headline from the newspaper Metro, and an ambiguous (paywalled) article by The Times. Unrelated to the rest of the article, Origo also alleges that Islamist attacks soar during Ramadam because jihadists who kill non-believers during Ramadan get extra rewards when in paradise.
Myth Debunked: The caution of the standfirst, which states that the fear of a spike in contagions during Ramadam might be unfounded, seems to be a way for Origo to safeguard themselves from any criticism about the outright anti-Muslim sentiment of the article. The fact that Origo gives space to this fear is poor journalistic practice, but not because journalists shouldn’t report about the possible impact of societal behaviour or specific policies. It is poor practice for three reasons. Firstly, it assumes that Muslims do not abide by the rules. It is logically sound to say “If different Muslim families meet during the holiday month, the number of people infected with the coronavirus could increase significantly”, as Origo wrote. But where is the evidence to suggest that Muslims will meet during Ramadan? This assumption has its roots in the racist belief that Muslims in Britain do not share the same values as the wider society, and that, for Muslims, religious laws are more important than state laws. Secondly, the sources used by Origo are not reliable. This article gets its information from “the international agency V4NA”. By naming it in this way, Origo gives it an appearance of credibility, but V4NA is actually a London-based news agency that has strong links to Orban’s government. The sources the article uses, which incite fear of Ramadan, are also not trustworthy. Among them is a misleading headline from the newspaper Metro, for which GTTO recently sent a complaint. The Metro headline implied that Ramadan celebrations would cause an increase in Covid-19 transmissions and cases, but actually most of the article lists numerous examples of Muslim communities adapting Ramadan celebrations to suit social distancing. The third key issue is that it grossly misrepresents the reality of what is happening in the UK, where mosques are closed and significant efforts have been made by Muslims to both limit transmission and provide support for vulnerable members of the community.
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BELGIUM - Minister’s dog-whistling Islamophobia is echoed by national media
Date of publication: 12 April 2020
Media outlet: RTBF
Headlines: “Riots in Anderlecht: ‘Totally inadmissible’, denounces the Minister of the Interior Pieter de Crem.”
Description of the anti-Muslim and anti-migrant content: This article reports the statements of the Belgian Minister of the Interior, Pieter De Crem, on VTM Nieuws, regarding the protests in Anderlecht, Brussels, following the death of a 19-year-old in a car chase with the police. The young man was fleeing from lockdown enforcement when he crashed his scooter against a police car and died. His death provoked unrest in Anderlecht, where a few hundred people gathered despite the restrictions due to the pandemic, some of whom clashed with the police. Commenting on the disorders, the Minister of the Interior said: “It’s totally inadmissible. [...] These are troublemakers who used a dramatic incident to create chaos. This attitude has nothing to do with mourning or grief.” He then added, “these are young people who cannot function according to our norms and values.”
Myth Debunked: The minister’s statement is a clear example of dog-whistle politics. “Dog-whistle” refers to the subtle language within political messaging that might appear innocuous to some people, but that also simultaneously conveys a more insidious message that resonates in a targeted group. In this specific case, when De Crem refers to the protestors as “young people who cannot function according to our norms and values” to refer to those people who protested, he is talking about those who live in Anderlecht, an underprivileged district of Brussels with a significant presence of Muslims and people with a migrant background. In doing so, De Crem is implicitly appealing to an Islamophobic and racist discourse that sees Muslims and people of colour as the “other”. The anti-Muslim narrative that sees Muslims and racialised people as having different and incompatible values with European values is all contained in the politician’s statement. In front of this dog-whistling, RTBF published the minister’s statement without addressing the meaning of his words or pointing out how they are charged with racist prejudice. The comments below the article on social media prove the way the statement was received by people who have anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views. In these comments, many agree with the minister's words, asking for the suppression of public aid to “those who are not able to integrate”. Others state that “those kinds of different cultures and religions are not compatible with Belgian culture”, with some going as far to say “bring them back to Morocco”. Journalists have a responsibility to challenge hate speech and explain the harm it causes, and dog-whistling is no exception. Indeed it is vital that journalists critically interrogate subtle forms of discrimination that might not be immediately recognised by the casual reader, thereby challenging its normalisation.
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BELGIUM – Doorbraak.be Hosts Anti-Muslim Inflammatory Claims Without any Context or Evidence
Date of publication: 21 April 2020
Media outlet: Doorbraak.be, Belgian opinion website. This was shared on their website as well as through their podcast on Spotify, called ‘Doorbraak Radio’
Author: David Geens
Headline: “Bernard Daelemans and Sam Van Rooy: There is an ethnic component explaining riots in Anderlecht”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article is in response to clashes between police and youth in Anderlecht (a municipality in Brussels), which took place after a young man, Adil, died while trying to evade a police control point in the city. People were outraged, and saw this as one of many cases caused by police brutality and racial profiling in Brussels. Clashes ensued, resulting in over 45 people being arrested, and the situation was resolved within 24 hours. The article on Doorbraak.be quotes Bernard Daelemans, editor-in-chief of left-wing Flemish nationalist monthly paper 'Meervoud', and Sam van Rooy, prominent Vlaams Belang politician. The article states: “No big spark is needed in the Anderlecht-Kuregem to create explosive riots. Recently we experienced it in full lockdown period. According to Sam Van Rooy, Flemish Member of Parliament for Vlaams Belang, this usually concerns young people with the same cultural-ethnic background. "I still see Islam as a binding factor here," says Van Rooy, "also in riots in other Western European metropolises. Islamic teachings teach them to hate our free, Western way of life.” Van Rooy is also quoted as saying: “Various groups of Muslims cause various problems, in which you always see Islam as the common link.” Later on in the article, both men weigh in: “Daelemans notes that immigrants with a Moroccan background form the largest group in Brussels and also the largest group in youth unemployment. From his experiences he finds that they have little motivation to make efforts in learning because of their fixation on racism. ‘There seems to be some fatalism ingrained in their culture,’ he said. Van Rooy assists with this: ‘That is the Inch Allah of the Muslim. They should not excel, because ultimately everything is in the hands of Allah.’”
Myth debunked: This article is riddled with anti-Muslim statements, which are made without providing any real context or facts. Firstly, nowhere in the article is an explanation given why the clashes occurred even though this is an important element in this discussion. Instead, van Rooy and Daelemans are given free reign to make inflammatory statements without any counter arguments. The main focus of their argument is Islam, for which they claim teaches it’s followers to hate the West and that it is the cause for riots around the region. This is a serious statement to make, yet no evidence is provided in the article to support it. Moreover, Daelemans makes several sweeping statements about Moroccan immigrants, essentially claiming that they are lazy. Again, where is the evidence for this? The clashes in Anderlecht were covered in a lot of mainstream publications, yet those reports are starkly different to this one by Doorbraak.be. Firstly, there is no mention in official reports about the religion and cultural background of those that took part, because it is not relevant. And most importantly, the legitimate news pieces did not make inflammatory anti-Muslims remarks and did not stoke hate. Unfortunately, this article is not very out of character, for both Doorbraak.be and van Rooy. Both have a track record of sharing anti-Muslims sentiments and making strong hateful statements without any context or reason. Both have a large reach, exposing people time and time again to this hate, that they become desensitised to it.
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GERMANY – Compact Publishes Sensationalist Article Othering Muslims in Germany
Date of publication: 4 April 2020
Media outlet: Compact, German right-wing magazine
Author: Kristin von Appen
Headline: “Ban on public assembly? Not for Muslims: 300 prayed in front of the Berlin mosque!”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The case covered in this article concerns a mosque in Berlin, in front of which 300 people congregated at the start of this month for prayer. The imam, the police, and members of the regulatory agency [Ordnungsamt] were unable to fully ensure that everyone kept a safe distance from each other. In the end, the prayer was aborted prematurely by the police in accordance with the imam. The usual fines for gathering outside were not issued by the police because the police lacked the required personnel at the time. The reason people had gathered was due to an ambiguous call to prayer by the mosque that left it unclear whether people should show up in person or not. However, on the morning of the day of the prayer, the mosque issued a warning on its Facebook page that explicitly stated that no one should show up in person. A day later, the mosque informed their Facebook followers that the prayer campaign would have to be stopped since people were still gathering in front of the mosque instead of staying home. The author writes sarcastically: “The police said last night on Twitter: "The prayer was ended prematurely in agreement with the Imam." How accommodating of the prayer leader to agree with the instructions of the law enforcement officers, given that only the word of Allah and Mohammed's law, set out in the Sharia, are important for the followers of the only true religion.” The piece ends with the following claims: “While Christians are banned from celebrating their highest festival - Easter - for the first time in its 2000-year-old history, it is likely that the Muslim equivalent, Ramadan, will be held. After all, just in time for the breaking of the fast every night and the subsequent gluttony in a large community after sunset, which begins on April 24 and ends on May 23, the Coronavirus is suspended thanks to government decisions. The restrictions will be lifted (for now).” According to social media analysis tool Crowdtangle, the article amassed a total of 28,256 interactions on Facebook. Furthermore, this case was covered in a sensationalist manner by several other far-right outlets.
Myth debunked: This article frames the incident as unfair favouritism towards Muslims who the author paints as getting special treatment, while Christians (used in this piece to refer to all Germans), are suffering under COVID-19 social distancing policies. The 300 Muslims who congregated at the mosque are portrayed as rebellious, the imam as insolent, and the police are supposedly submitting to the imam. These are a lot of claims to make in relation to one incident, without much evidence. Yes, it is true that 300 Muslims went to the mosque in Berlin and attempted to pray in front of it. This was because of an unclear message sent by the mosque, which both before and after the incident clarified that people should not physically attend prayer at the mosque during the coronavirus pandemic. The police stated that fines were not issued due to a lack of personnel to deal with the 300 people there. This was an unfortunate case of miscommunication that should not have happened; however, it in no way ‘proves’ that Muslims in Germany get special treatment, or that they are purposely defying German law.
The article clearly employs “othering” of Muslims throughout, painting them as not belonging in Germany and as being under no obligation to follow German laws. The article claims that Easter this year was ‘cancelled’ due to the pandemic, but that Ramadan is allowed to continue. This is not the case. Firstly, neither of these religious festivals were cancelled. Rather, usual practices such as going to church or the mosque have been banned because of social distancing regulations. People celebrated these religious festivals in different ways, such as joining an online mass. Ramadan is no different from Easter in this sense: people are still celebrating, but in ways which are in line with coronavirus measures. There have been unfortunate cases where people have defied measures and still congregated around these religious holidays; however, these are the exception, not the rule, and using them to funnel people’s frustrations with the pandemic policies against Muslims is as harmful as it is unhelpful.
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