The Christchurch mosque shootings are putting a worldwide spotlight on Islamophobia.
The mass shootings on in New Zealand have left Europe’s 19-million-strong Muslim community feeling frightened and vulnerable, which has led to renewed calls for action against the rise of bigotry.
The alleged killer, an Australian man who live-streamed the massacre on Facebook, described himself as a 28-year-old claiming to represent Europeans and whites in a battle against immigrants. The ensuing killing spree that he unleashed on the innocent victims left 50 people dead and another 48 wounded.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted that the EU stood in solidarity with New Zealand and would stand against those who attack the European way of life.
“Whilst an increasing number of EU states adopt policies stigmatising Muslims and social media is infected by anti-Muslim narratives, European leaders must vaccinate their populations against the proliferation of extreme-right ideologies before it is too late,” Willy Fautre, the director of Brussels-based rights group Human Rights Without Frontiers, said while speaking with New Europe before adding, “Education and information are key instruments for that purpose. The Australian terrorist said he was inspired by mass killer Anders Behring Breiving, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. Far-right ideologies are the next plague against which we must watch out. Perpetrators of acts of violence or terrorism targeting religious groups or individuals must be heavily sentenced to avoid the import of inter-religious tensions and conflicts in our democratic societies.”
British anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson has been leading a campaign of hate for years and had a million followers on social media before being banned from Facebook and Instagram last month because he repeatedly posted material with Islamophobic hate-speech.
Belgium’s Muslim Executive, which represents the interests of the Islamic community in Belgium, has asked the authorities to provide additional security in the wake of the New Zealand attack.
“All mosques and other places of worship are definitely in need of extra protection. We have always been in full support of governmental measures to fight all forms of radicalism, racism and Islamophobia,” said Muslim Executive Chair Mehmet Üstün, adding, “Recently, we have heard a lot of racism and extremist talk.”
Additional security measures have been introduced in France, the Netherlands and the UK, since the New Zealand attack, but not in Belgium.
Islamophobia is on the rise, based on research in eight countries, including the UK, France, and Germany. The report highlighted how hate crimes against Muslims have been tied to the rise of far-right and anti-immigration movements in several EU countries.
These sentiments have been further exacerbated by content spread in the media and a poisonous political discourse in the EU, which is becoming increasingly hostile towards Muslims in many spheres of everyday life.
In countries such as Hungary, which have served as a transit point for many asylum seekers headed for Western Europe, certain populist political parties attempt to portray Muslim as potential terrorists. Even in the UK, which has a long history of diversity and Muslim populations. has found itself the target of hatred in the wake of attacks claimed by groups connected to ISIS.
The report calls on the EU Member States, as well as their policymakers, to play a more active role in the fight against Islamophobia. European policymakers also need to give a signal that they are committed to ensuring equality and inclusion for all members of society.
“This is an issue that is poisoning our societies in the European Union and putting barriers between our communities,” said Jean Lambert, a UK Green Party MEP.
The Muslim Council of Britain is urging everyone to fight Islamophobia and the European Commission says it is taking proactive action to halt attacks on Muslims by appointing a coordinator that will look into all forms of the anti-Muslim hatred.
Last September, a toolkit was introduced by the EU to fight the rise of Islamophobia in Europe.
But anti-Islamophobia campaigners say recent examples abound of “blatant” Islamophobic violence. In Belgium, a 19-year old Muslim woman was recently attacked by two men who pulled her headscarf and her shirt off, used a sharp object to cut her body and call her a “filthy Arab”.