This summer saw a firestorm of controversy surrounding the so-called “burkini ban” on French beaches. While French courts quickly stopped the local prohibition on modest swimwear, unjust laws, policies, and practices are nothing new to Muslims in France or elsewhere in Europe. In fact, according to legal research and analysis forthcoming from the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law at UCLA School of Law, hatred of Muslims as a people continues to grow in the region, as evidenced by, among other trends, increasing acts and threats of violence against the minority faith group.
We view Europeans who are Muslims almost exclusively through the lens of national and global security, as seen in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris in January and November 2015, despite evidence suggesting comparable or even potentially greater threats from other sources. According to Europol’s 2016 European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, ethno-nationalist and separatist groups were responsible for the most terrorist attacks in the EU last year.
There were seventeen terrorist attacks perpetrated by self-identifying Muslims in the EU last year, as compared to 65 nationalist and separatist acts of terrorism. That’s about three to four times as many as those that are purportedly religiously inspired.
Europol also noted an increase in right-wing terrorist attacks: there were nine reported incidents in 2015 as compared to none the previous year. There were 800 attacks against refugees in Germany alone. Interestingly, in a related subsection titled “Islamophobia,” Europol also highlighted anti-Muslim hate crimes against mosques and individuals, including firebombs, vandalism, and threats. While this inclusion is laudable, its depiction is hardly comprehensive, as we can see from publicly available data.
Last year in France there were more than 400 anti-Muslim hate crimes reported, representing a 223 percent increase, according to the French National Human Rights Commission (CNCDH). And, from July 2014 to July 2015, in the United Kingdom, there were more than 800 anti-Muslim hate crimes in London. By November 2015, when the terror attacks in Paris occurred, there were 878 reported anti-Muslim attacks in that city alone.
Additionally, in Germany, the number of racially motivated attacks is higher than any year since the end of World War II. The rise in these hate crimes can be attributed, in part, to both the rise in immigration and as such the rise in anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly against Muslims and Africans, as noted in Europol’s report.
In 2015, as Germany took in more than one million asylum seekers, there were more than one thousand attacks on asylum shelters; notably,199 such attacks occurred in 2014. Recent rhetoric by members of the far-right German political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), in particular, may contribute to the environment facilitating these hate crimes, as the group’s leader exhorted officers to “use firearms if necessary” to prevent illegal entry into the country. From 2013 to 2015, racially motivated crime increased by 87 percent.
While Germany does not track Islamophobic hate crimes, independent research studies suggest that religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims have also increased. In recent years,German authorities have arrested several members of right-wing extremist organizations for both planned and executed anti-Muslim attacks.
In May 2015, for example, four leaders of the newly created extremist “Old School Society,” were arrested in possession of explosives. The group had allegedly planned to use the explosives to attack local mosques, refugee shelters, and Muslims. Leaders of the extremist National Socialist Underground are also currently on trial for the murders of ten people, primarily of Turkish heritage, between 2000 and 2007. Until the murder-suicide of two of the group’s founders in 2011, these murders had been blamed on the immigrant community and had been widely regarded as the result of internal gang fighting, rather than anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Statistically speaking, attacks on Muslim citizens tend to increase in the days and weeks following major world events involving members of the faith group. European Muslims are frequently vilified and attacked following international acts of terror involving violent extremists. There appears to be a positive relationship between a nation’s economic wellbeing, or lack thereof, and the growth of populist right-wing political parties that scapegoat Muslims and immigrants for society’s perceived ills. Individuals may have less motivation to conduct attacks on immigrants and Muslims if their own personal lives have not been affected significantly by political, social, or economic challenges.
Ultimately, however, threats and acts of anti-Muslim violence in a number of European contexts increasingly demonstrate more than a simple sense of dissatisfaction with political, social, or economic challenges. Rather, they reveal a sense of increasing hatred toward Muslims as a people.
1] Of course, all forms of criminal violence are wrong irrespective of the identity of the intended victim or perpetrator. The fact that European Muslims are overwhelmingly viewed through the lens of security – in public discourse, public policy, and mainstream media –is short-sighted and ultimately leaves public officials playing politics with our collective security.
Engy Abdelkader is full-time faculty member at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where she teaches courses on international terrorism and human rights as well as civil liberties and national security. An award-winning attorney and scholar, she has worked with Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since 9/11 to address Islamophobia. Her research and writing explores religious freedom challenges confronting American Muslims, European Muslims, and Burmese Rohingya, among others. The author of “When Islamophobia Turns Violent: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, (Georgetown) Abdelkader’s legal scholarship has been published in the Fordham International Law Journal, Asian American Law Journal at Berkeley Law, and the UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, among others. Her popular writing has appeared in, or her work covered by, TIME, CNN, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, CBS News, The Catholic Reporter, Newseum Institute, Slate and other news outlets. Abdelkader holds two U.S. law degrees, including credentials from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she served as a constitutional law teaching fellow and graduated with academic distinction.
She is the author of A Comparative Analysis of European Islamophobia: France, UK, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden forthcoming from the UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, accessible here and from which this blog post is excerpted.