Reports have warned of an alarming rise in Islamophobia in Europe.
A series of horrifying incidents in which copies of the holy Quran were burned in different parts of Europe have sparked outrage across the Muslim world and forced authorities in Europe to address the issue.
While the attacks have been attributed to delays by Turkey to approve Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO), officials around the world say they are clear attempts to provoke two billion Muslims worldwide, describing them as hate crimes, not protests.
Analysts say the acts have only revealed Europe’s deep-rooted Islamophobia under the pretext of “freedom of expression” despite the continent long-priding itself as civilised and a safe space for various freedoms.
“These events bear witness to Islamophobia’s strong and deep roots in a continent described by some officials as a ‘garden’ – a safe haven of freedom and justice for all,” Rayan Freschi, researcher at London-based advocacy organisation CAGE, told Doha News.
Freschi noted that the “lofty yet unjustified reputation” that Europe continues to hold contributed to the framing of the Quran burnings as an act of freedom and not hate crimes.
“The burnings were perniciously framed as an expression of freedom of thought and opinion,” Freschi said.
The Quran burning incidents first began on 20 January in Sweden when far-right dual Danish-Swedish leader Rasmus Paludan burned a copy of the book in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Protected by the Swedish police, Rasmus lit the holy book on fire at a sensitive time for both nations as Sweden sought Turkey’s support to join NATO. Turkey’s NATO membership grants it power to block applications for other states seeking to join the military alliance.
“Sweden has long established itself as an Islamophobia’s stronghold. The State forcefully closed mosques, enacted anti-Muslim ghetto’s discriminatory policies and its social services are recurrently accused of removing Muslim children from their families because of their religion,” Freschi said.
Just days later, Dutch far-right leader, Edwin Wagensveld tore and stomped on pages of the Quran near parliament in The Hague in The Netherlands.
Then on Friday, Rasmus, also protected by Danish authorities, burned a copy of the Quran in front of a mosque as well as the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen shortly after packed-out weekly prayers.
“They [repeated incidents] are the natural consequences of European States’ War on Terror policies, which enabled the demonisation of Muslims and their religious texts,” Freschi said, referring to the United States campaign following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The so-called “War on Terror” was widely seen as a guise under which Islamophobia was rolled out globally, where many particularly in the west associated Islam to the word “terrorism”.
Muslims later faced widespread Islamophobia and rise of hate speech towards Islam that has had a lingering effect that has only increased over the years.
“The War on Terror’s targeting of the Muslim World has had a debilitating impact and, unfortunately, its political reliance and dependency on the west remains the first obstruction to justice,” Freschi explained.
The European Islamophobia Report 2021 warned of the rise of anti-Muslim hate in the region, detailing policies adopted by some countries that have fuelled such animosity.
The United Kingdom and France were described by the report as “the main spots of anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobic incidents.”
In France there were 213 anti-Muslim incidents recorded in 2021, half of which were carried out in the form of harming places of worship and cemeteries. A total of 22% of the incidents involved attacked Muslims.
Meanwhile in the UK, there was a 9% year-on-year increase in cases, with 45% of those reported involving “religiously aggravated” hate crimes.
In Sweden, there was a disturbing figure of 996 cases between 2017 and 2021.
“However, most complaints of religious discrimination were directly related to ethnic discrimination numbering 4,298 during this period,” the report noted.
Last week, the EU appointed its new coordinator on combating anti-Muslim hatred who now joins member states and with civil society and academics to “strengthen policy responses” in anti-Muslim hatred.
“We must fight anti-Muslim hatred in all areas of life including education, employment and social policy. We must also gather data about, monitor and tackle all instances of anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality, said as she introduced the new chief.
However, the culprits involved in the incidents in January have faced no repercussions, triggering accusations of double standards.
In its condemnation of Danish authorities , Qatar’s foreign ministry said the violations revealed “abhorrent double standards” and warned of the dangers that such campaigns against Islam hold.
Commenting on the delayed response to recent moves that have offended millions of Muslims globally, Freschi noted that “concrete and effective positions cannot be expected from those who are part of the problem.”
He also urged Muslim countries to adopt proper action in supporting those who practice Islam in the west.
“Muslim countries have the moral duty to adopt concrete, effective and efficient diplomatic actions to support Muslim minorities living in the west,” he said.
In Norway, authorities withdrew a planned burning of a copy of the Quran by a group of far-right protesters last week after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador, Erling Skjonsberg.
“Upon learning that there will be an attack against our holy book, the Quran, in Norway tomorrow, the Norwegian ambassador to Turkiye [Turkey] has just been summoned to our ministry,” a Turkish diplomatic source told Anadolu Agency on Thursday.
“[Norway’s] approach not to prevent the planned provocative act, which is clearly a hate crime … is unacceptable and we expect this act not to be allowed,” the source added.
Shortly after, Norwegian authorities said: “The police emphasise that burning the Quran is a legal political statement in Norway, but this event can’t go ahead due to security concerns”.