The current climate of fear and anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is acting as fertile ground for the dissemination of conspiracy theories and discriminatory discourses. Since the outbreak in Wuhan, Chinese people, and people of East Asian appearance more broadly, have been attacked and abused because they were seen as carriers of the virus. But as the infections spread across the world, specific religious and ethnic groups have also been targeted. These attacks range from shaming Muslims for allegedly failing to adhere to lockdown measures, to global conspiracies about Jewish people, drawing on historical prejudices and racist perceptions.
The far-right PI-News offers a fictional account of what Germany will be in 2021, using racist slurs and false anti-Muslim conspiracy narratives. This is Germany’s media monitoring highlight for January.
The extreme right-wing daily Eleftheri Ora claims that 14 Greek politicians have purposely hidden their Jewish origins and are pursuing “secret policies”. This is Greece's media monitoring highlight for December.
The propaganda media Origo reports that, in Belgium, some Christian pupils have been “forced to pray in a mosque”, but provides no sources, no footage, and no context, feeding existing Islamophobic narratives on the “submission” of Europe to Islam. This is Hungary’s media monitoring highlight for December.
The Brussels-based 7sur7 reports that Toblerone chocolate has received its halal certification, but the story is framed to make it look like a secret conspiracy to please Muslim buyers. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for December.
On CNEWS, the founder of the Observatory on Secularism of Val d’Oise Laurence Marchand-Taillade uses dubious Egyptian sources to claim that the Yellow Vests movement has been influenced by the tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is France's media monitoring highlight for December.
A vile hate-filled website is in the process of being taken down, after GTTO partner Licra and other NGOs in France have prompted a legal action against it.
In a column on Epoch Times, a far-right author claims that a UN agreement is a proof of conspiracy, and describes Muslim prayers in public spaces as “provocative”. This is Germany's media monitoring highlight for October.
From absurd antisemitic conspiracy theories on the wildfires in Greece to the many platforms giving voice to far-right fringe individuals, these July 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 – Rothschild family accused of causing the Greek wildfires
Date of publication: 28 July 2018
Media outlet: Eleftheri Ora, far-right daily newspaper
Headline: "Rothschilds set fires with laser weapons"
Description of the antisemitic content: On the front page of Eleftheri Ora, the Rothschild family are accused of being responsible for the wildfires that devastated Athens at the end of July. According to the paper, the Rothschilds started the fire with droned armed with laser weapons. Eleftheri Ora states that the Rothschilds and the New World Order are doing this to endanger the economic and social stability of the country and result in the breakdown of social cohesion and democratic institutions. A number of online far-right news websites shared and disseminated this article.
Myth Debunked: The Rothschild family is a European banking dynasty started in the early 1800s, by the five sons of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. Born in 1774 in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Rothschild established banking branches in France, England, Italy, Germany and Austria. Now in its seventh generation, the family’s descendants, and a few external shareholders, still own the core banking business. But they did not cause the fires near Athens. They do not control the weather, they did not assassinate John F. Kennedy, they did not start wars to profit from them, and they did not cause the Holocaust. By virtue of being financially successful and of Jewish descent, the Rothschild family are at the centre of countless antisemitic conspiracy theories. As the Get the Trolls Out’s Linguistic Self-Defence Guide states, some people use the Rothschilds as a conduit for their anti-Jewish hatred and deny antisemitism at the same time. “Being affluent and influential individuals, the references to Soros and the Rothschilds can be misused” by strengthening “the clichés that all Jews are rich and powerful”, the guide states.
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UK – Scientist Dawkins belittles Muslim call to prayer over Christian bells
Date of publication:16 July 2018
Author: Richard Dawkins, renowned evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist
Tweet: "Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding “Allahu Akhbar.” Or is that just my cultural upbringing?"
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Richard Dawkins makes a comparison between the Christian and the Muslim calls to prayer, the Church bells and the Adhan. He calls Adhan “aggressive sounding”. After being accused of intolerance, Mr Dawkins told The Independent: “Church bells are beautiful. The muezzin’s call to prayer can also be very beautiful if recited in a good voice. “But also, ‘Allahu Akhbar’ is the last thing you hear before the suicide bomb goes off.”
Myth Debunked: Richard Dawkins, known for his outspoken support of atheism, secular humanism and opposition to religion, is counterposing the sounds of two religions against each other based on a prejudiced view of Islam. He defines ‘Allahu Akhbar’ as aggressive, in line with many Islamophobic tropes that see Islam as inherently violent. As he admits later, Dawkins associates ‘Allahu Akhbar’ with terrorism, ignoring the innumerable occasions when it is used in peaceful contexts. ‘Allahu Akhbar’ literally translates as “God is greatest” and it is used by Muslims in the call to prayer, as well as in daily situations as an expression of gratitude and faith.
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FRANCE – Newspaper gives credibility to far-right terrorist
Date of publication:31 July 2018
Media outlet: Le Parisien, daily newspaper published in Paris and suburbs
Headline: “Ultra right: the secrets of the founder of the AFO group”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In this question-&-answer interview, the daily Le Parisien gives voice and credibility to Guy Sibra, leader of a French far-right terrorist group called AFO (Operational Forces Action). At the end of June, Guy Sibra, a former police officer, was detained for a few days on “criminal terrorist association” charges. He was later released, but the investigation is ongoing and he is under police surveillance. According to the judges, the AFO group was found in possession of 36 weapons and was planning to attackFrench-Muslim citizens including women wearing hijab’s, imams as well as Muslim singers. The questions asked by the paper allow Guy Sibra to promote his Islamophobic views whilst denying he has any (“They [the judges] told us we want to poison halal food. But now, again, what would be the purpose? It is so stupid compared to throwing pork in front of mosques”) and defending himself (“We are not looking to fight but defend and help ourselves in a humanitarian way”). By giving him a voice without challenging any of his racist and violent statements, the newspaper is normalising xenophobic violence and criminal acts.
Myth Debunked: Perpetrators of previous Paris attacks have not been interviewed by French newspapers before, nor have terrorists who are under surveillance. When giving voice to a far-right terrorist, Le Parisien acts irresponsibly because it gives credibility and normalises racist and violent acts, as if they are worth listening to, and as if they are not harmful. The media have the power to influence public opinion, slowly making acceptable what was once not. A recent study published on the British Journal of Political Science has analysed the case of the populist far-right UKIP party in Britain, showing that media coverage drove party support but not vice versa. In other words, it has proved that media attention towards populist right-wing parties increases support for them. GTTO partner Licra questioned the choice of Le Parisien to publish this interview: “Between unconscious culpability and clickbait, how could Le Parisien give voice to this individual?”
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BELGIUM – Council candidate spouts anti-religious hate while imitating Hitler
Date of publication: 26 July 2018
Source: Twitter and various news media outlets
Author: Tony Hulsmans, member of New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), Flemish nationalist and conservative political party
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In a video, an N-VA party member, Tony Hulsmans, shouts antisemitic and Islamophobic insults while imitating Hitler and doing the Nazi salute. This video was shot about three years ago but re-emerged at the end of July, when it was reposted by a person on Facebook while commenting on an anti-refugee post by Hulsmans. Hulsmans, who stood as a councillor candidate in the town of Zonhoven, was soon dismissed from the N-VA list of candidates. However, he is still a party member.
Myth Debunked: Similar to the Le Parisien case, what is relevant here is not only the antisemitic and Islamophobic nature of the video, but the attention that the national media gave him. Surely local media are right to publish the story so as to inform residents who might vote for him, and the N-VA party, without having a full picture of what a council candidate believes in. But nation-wide media coverage –that includes titles such as La Libre, Le Soir, and HLN – ensured, instead, the notoriety of a racist fanatic who was unknown until the day before. Disproportionate media attention risks reinforcing harmful ideas and presents racist candidates as serious contenders.
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BELGIUM – Newspaper insists on terrorism in non-terrorism-related story
Date of publication: 31 July 2018
Media outlet: Le Vif is a French weekly news magazine published in Brussels
Headline: “A person blows themself up in Stembert: it is not terrorism”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article reports on the suicide of a person in Verviers, Belgium. As the person blew themself up, the newspaper felt the need to clarify that it was not a terrorist attack. The author makes a point of saying this in the headline, in the intro, and in the article. Despite this incident having nothing to do with terrorism, almost half of the article is devoted to recounting how in 2015, a week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a terrorist cell was dismantled in Verviers.
Myth Debunked: This article links two events that have nothing in common except geography: the suicide of a person in Verviers in 2018 and the dismantlement of a terrorist cell in Verviers in 2015. Le Vif makes this connection because the suicide was committed by an explosion – generally associated, in the European public perception, with Islamic terrorism – and even though the police stated the case was not being treated as terrorism. Spending, then, almost half of the article explaining, in detail, the dismantlement of an Islamic terrorist group three years ago is simply unprofessional. It contributes to creating confusion and misinformation, for which Muslim residents eventually pay the price.
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HUNGARY – Origo uses persecution against Copts to fuel hatred against Muslims
Date of publication: 22 July 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: “Journalist: According to Egyptian Muslims, Christian women can be raped”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article reports on the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt, but it does so in order to instil fear of Islam and Muslims among its readers. It says “Egypt is the best example of what happens to Christian communities if Muslim migrants takeover”. The main point of the article is to claim that Muslims and Christians cannot live together because “Muslims believe that women who do not wear the veil deserve to be raped”. The article also mentions that Christian people were already living in Egypt when Arab Muslims came to invade the region, convert residents, and destroy their language and culture.
Myth Debunked: Coptic Christians make up about 10-15 percent of Egypt's population and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. While it is true that Coptic Christians in Egypt are facing unprecedented levels of persecution due to the rise of radical Islamist groups, this piece by Origo aims to fuel hatred towards Muslims through misinformation and sensationalism. This article equates migrants in Europe with Islamist extremists and accuses all Muslims of persecuting Christians, instead of clearly differenciating between terrorists and ordinary citizens. The persecution of Copts in Egypt is due to the overspill of Islamic terrorists that have driven out of Iraq and Syria, but the article does not explain this, and rather talks about Muslims in general. There are many countries where Muslims and Christians live peacefully together, but Origo does not mention this either. The goal of instilling fear and anger among readers in Hungary is obsequiously in line with the anti-immigrant government agenda.
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GERMANY – Vile blog post accuses all Muslims of antisemitism
Date of publication: 20 July 2018
Media outlet: Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of the Good) is a political blog
Author: Rafael Korenzecher, editor of Jüdischen Rundschau
Headline:“We are not against Jews. We are just blind”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Guest blogger Rafael Korenzecher claims that Islam has always aspired to be a religion, but it is not. He degrades Islam saying that it is a “backwards, hegemonical, inhumane, intolerant and democracy-hating violent world-dominance ideology" that directly leads to "Islam-generated violence against Jews". The article claims that antisemitic incidents in Germany, “as a rule, they are hardly ever committed by the right [...], but mainly by Muslims.” According to the author, Islam is incompatible with democracy and Western society.
Myth Debunked: Although there are small sections of the Muslim community who have promoted antisemitic views, the author of this blog post completely fails to understand the problem of antisemitism in Europe today. On the contrary, he makes widespread Islamophobic generalisations that are vile and violent. Fighting one form of racism (antisemitism) resurging to another form of racism (anti-Muslim hate) will not decrease bigotry and discrimination. People with hatred against an ethnic or religious group, usually hate other groups too and vice versa. Only when we start to address antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, through education and community work, we can stamp both out. There are many good examples of interfaith work all across Europe that sees plenty of support for Muslims who stand in solidarity with Jewish communities against both antisemitism and Islamophobia.
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Eleftheri Ora spreads vile conspiracy theories about wildfires in Greece. This is our Greece's media monitoring highlights for July.