4 October 2011.
Europe’s increasingly vocal and powerful Far Right parties have swapped a racist agenda for an Islamophobic one, moving them closer to the mainstream, where anti-Muslim views are commonplace among conservative commentators and politicians.
Islamophobia is “more widespread in Western Europe than any social prejudice since the anti-Semitism of the 1930s”, says a leading expert on the Far Right in Europe.
According to Professor Cas Mudde, a Dutch academic at DePauw University and the younger brother of prominent right-wing activist Tim Mudde, Islamophobic views have largely replaced racist ones on the Far Right. But anti-Muslim rhetoric is not just limited to the extreme fringe, says Professor Mudde; Mainstream European commentators and politicians also frequently denounce Muslim practices.
Mudde argues that Islamophobic ideas have become acceptable because a near majority of European citizens now consider Muslims to be alien to Western culture:
In addition, the demonization of the Islamic faith in popular culture has also led to a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes. Strong evidence of this came in a 2009 study of anti-Muslim prejudice by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. They questioned 23,500 people from ethnic minority groups in all 27 EU Member States about their experience of prejudice.
The report found an extremely high level of intolerance: One in three Muslim respondents had been discriminated against in the previous 12 months, and 11 percent had experienced a racist, or anti-Islamic, crime.
Despite the high figures, most discrimination against Muslims goes unrecorded. Some 79 percent of Muslim respondents in the study had not reported their experiences; with 59 percent believing that “nothing would happen, or change by reporting it”, while 38 percent said that “it happens all the time”, and “cannot be stopped”.
Dr Robert Lambert, the co-director of the UK’s European Muslim Research Centre, has researched hate crimes against Muslims in the Tower Hamlets area of London.
However, Lambert’s recent interviews with Muslims in Tower Hamlets now indicate that hate crimes have returned.
The website Islamophobia Watch also lists thousands of acts of violence and prejudice, many of them carried out by members of the English Defence League (EDL) – an anti-Muslim street protest group formed in 2009. Last week, for example, EDL thugs in east London were jailed for smashing their way into a mosque in Redbridge and attacking the imam. The attack took place near Dagenham, where the EDL has staged anti-Muslim demonstrations outside another proposed mosque.
The EDL has also been trying to spread its malign influence overseas. An investigation by the left-leaning British newspaper The Observer established that the movement’s leaders have regular contact with anti-jihad groups in the Tea Party organisation, and invited Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a Tea Party activist, to speak about Sharia law and funding, in London.
The EDL has also elicited support from the notorious Pamela Geller, who was influential in the protests against plans to build an Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero. Geller, darling of the Tea Party’s growing anti-Islamic wing, advocates an alliance with the EDL.