While the Center for American Progress’ widely noted 2011 report “Fear, Inc.” and its follow-up report “Fear, Inc. 2.0” exposed the intricate network promoting Islamophobia in the United States, a similar network is gaining traction in Europe and is largely out of the spotlight. This network has relied on many of the same tactics and in some cases even consists of the same individuals and organizations as its ideological compatriots in the United States. In fact, many groups stoking an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims in the United States draw inspiration from progenitor groups hailing from Europe, where wild theories of “Islamization” have for some time taken root amongst fringe sectors of European society. The agenda of these groups, whether in the United States or Europe, remains the same: to stigmatize and marginalize Muslims in order to prevent them from becoming assertive members of social and political systems.
The restriction on the religious freedom of Muslims and anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe is marked by such instances as the banning of minarets for mosques in Switzerland, Orwellian laws regarding the regulation of the publication and translation of the Qur’an in Austria, bans on the headscarf in state schools in France and current discussions on imposing a similar ban in French universities, in addition to unprecedented protests in Germany against alleged “Islamization” which in some cases have been led by apparent Nazi sympathizers. All of this has taken place in the backdrop of the rise of far-right nationalist movements across Europe, epitomized by parties such as the National Front in France or the National Democratic Party and Alternative for Germany political parties in Germany. The effect of this increasingly pervasive climate of fear and hate towards Muslims has manifested itself in a rise in hate crimes and violent attacks. Indeed, there have been numerous recorded incidents of mosques being vandalized, women wearing the hijab being attacked, and Muslim community leaders and public servants being smeared.
The Islamophobia network in Europe shares close ties with leading anti-Islam activists in the United States. Prominent Islamophobes such as Dutch MP Geert Wilders who has called for a ban on the Qur’an and calls Islam a “dangerous and totalitarian ideology,” associates closely with notorious U.S.-based “misinformation experts” like Frank Gaffney and David Horowitz. Daniel Pipes, a controversial “scholar” of Islam who runs the neoconservative Middle East Forum, once called Wilders “the most important European alive today” because of his willingness to “deal with the Islamic challenge facing the continent.” Other European Islamophobes such as former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was stripped of her citizenship and forced to leave the Netherlands for lying on her asylum application, have whole-sale immigrated to the United States and brought with them their bigoted agenda of hate and misinformation. In the United Kingdom, the hawkish Henry Jackson Society (HJS) has also given into anti-Muslim hysteria and established close relationships with those fanning anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Its associate director, Douglas Murray, declared in 2006: “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board. … We in Europe owe—after all—no special dues to Islam. We owe them no religious holidays, special rights or privileges. … So don’t flatter them.” HJS receives significant financial contributions from the New York-based and John Bolton-chaired Gatestone Institute, a decidedly anti-Islamic organization.
Much like their American counterparts, Islamophobic individuals and groups in Europe have sought to defame and delegitimize Muslim civil society organizations and their leaders. They often resort to disgraceful tactics such as accusing Muslims of being “extremists” or having ties with terrorist groups. One recent example is the case of Muddassar Ahmed from the United Kingdom, a member of a cross-government group that focuses on combatting anti-Muslim hatred in Britain who Andrew Gilligan in the conservative Telegraph newspaper recently sought to discredit by highlighting his links to a radical group for a brief time during his youth. Ahmed, who has been described by British MP Yasmin Qureshi as having “done much to strengthen transatlantic security cooperation and Muslim-Jewish ties,” later lambasted The Telegraph’s claims as “a lazily compiled reflection of a distant past that I have long evolved from and a wilful exercise in skimming over the many years of work I have dedicated to combat all forms of bigotry.”
Similar to the nonsensical hysteria created over Sharia law in the United States, Islamophobes in Europe also make outlandish claims about alleged conspiracies by Muslims to “Islamize” Europe or create Muslim “no-go zones” (a claim recently notoriously repeated by American “terrorism analyst” Steven Emerson). These claims have been thoroughly debunked, but the malevolent intent of the xenophobes who spread such rumors goes a long way in alienating Muslim communities.
Both the United States and Europe have been witnessing a steady rise in Islamophobia over the past several years. As the Center for American Progress’ “Fear, Inc.” and “Fear, Inc. 2.0” reports have shown, there are well-organized and funded groups that fan the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment and push for institutionalized bigotry towards a group of individuals simply because of their faith. These discriminatory forces are against the liberty-derived fabric of Western society and their threat to Western values should not be taken lightly.
Taeb is an attorney specializing in national security and co-author of the Center for American Progress’ report, “Fear, Inc. 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America.” Toossi is assistant editor of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Right Web project.