by ANDREW E. HARROD:
On March 21, 2013, the United Nation’s observed its annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commemorating the anniversary of the 1960 apartheid massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa. Attempting to draw a parallel with the massacre, the Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) grouping European Network Against Racism (ENAR) issued its Racism in Europe: ENAR Shadow Report 2011-12 on racism in Europe the week earlier. In the report’s associated Key Findings on Muslim Communities and Islamophobia, ENAR, an entity linked on its website to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, calls upon European Union (EU) institutions to “recognize Islamophobia as a specific form of racism.” ENAR’s cavalier invocation as “racism” of what has been analyzed as an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) developed “thought crime of the totalitarian future” portends problematical developments with respect to the treatment of Islam amidst its critics in Europe.
Relating “racism” to Islam asks the obvious, “are Muslims a race?” The Shadow Report does little to clarify the confusion, stating (page 2) that “Islamophobia describes an irrational fear, prejudice and hatred towards Islam, Muslims or Islamic culture.” ENAR thus condemns not just animus against Muslim individuals, but also any undefined “irrational” opposition to Islam as an idea in faith or culture. Accordingly, the report condemns as “Islamophobia” (13) not simply “criminal damage to Islamic buildings and violence against Muslims” but also “opposition to, as well as protests against, the building of mosques,” irrespective of any individual criticism of such mosques like the proposed New York City Ground Zero Mosque.
The Shadow Report similarly bemoans the poor public relations (PR) image concerning Islam and Muslims in Europe. While noting (4) that the “news media plays a critical role in shaping public opinion,” the Shadow Report declares without any empirical substantiation that “news reporting of ethnic minorities…is generally negative and distorted.” The report complains of a “tendency for the media to blame migrants and asylum seekers for high rates of unemployment and criminality.”
In contrast, the Shadow Report recommends (5) that supposedly objective journalists “[u]se positive terminology and encourage positive media reporting about ethnic and religious minorities and migrants to emphasize their economic, social and cultural contributions to European societies.” This would be part of what the report (5) describes as a desired “ethical journalism, protective of values such as equality and dignity.” Similarly (6), the report calls upon authorities to “[r]eview school curricula to ensure that they take into consideration the presence of minorities and migrants and their contribution to culture and society, and contribute to overcoming stereotypes and promoting inclusion.”
While promoting positive speech about Islam and Muslims along with other minority groups, the Shadow Report disturbingly calls for restricting negative speech on these matters. The Key Findings and the report (5) both advocate a “courageous approach to tackling hate speech and racist rhetoric in the public discourse” and a “zero tolerance policy to stigmatizing comments and terminology likely to incite violence, racism or other forms of discrimination.” While most EU members (4) “have legal provisions in place for tackling hate speech…in some cases they are insufficient or ineffective.”
Thus the report, in reiterating this charge on page 30, states that “[i]n some cases measures still need to be brought in.” In particular, the report (5) deems “regulation of the internet” as “seriously inadequate and often completely lacking” even though “[s]ocial media and social networking sites have become a growing space for disseminating xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist discourse.” EU members should accordingly “[r]einforce legislation to monitor hate on the internet and in the media.”
The report (30) identifies Austrian politicians, “particularly from far-right parties,” as “regular perpetrators of hate speech.” The report references the October 14, 2011, acquittal of the provincial Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partie Österreichs or FPÖ) chairman in Styria, Gerhard Kurzmann, of incitement charges. The Styria FPÖ had posted on its website a game entitled Moschee Baba (Austrian slang for “Mosque Goodbye”) in which players targeted mosques, minarets, and muezzins on screen, something that brought prosecution accusations of replicating a shooting gallery. The Shadow Report finds that this case “demonstrates the difficulty in successfully prosecuting hate speech in Austria, especially when the perpetrator is a public figure.”
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Andrew E. Harrod serves as a Legal Clerk for The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum. Mr. Harrod is also a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. This article was commissioned by The Legal Project.