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Islamophobia is surging throughout Europe. Here’s how we stop it

Islamophobia is surging throughout Europe. Here’s how we stop it

Earlier this month, a plot between AfD party officials and neo-Nazis to deport millions of ethnic minorities from Germany was uncovered.

But this conspiracy is part of a sinister undercurrent sweeping Europe and the wider Western world - one that goes hand-in-hand with a relentless surge in Islamophobia.

Since the atrocities of 7 October and the ongoing onslaught against the people of Gaza, Islamophobia in the UK has surged 600%.

Yet the British government has responded by inflaming rhetoric rather than promoting messages of unity.

Recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used an Islamophobic trope as a response to another Muslim MP, which I was forced to call out on the floor of the Commons.

Meanwhile, the Conservative government has spent their time and effort – not healing worsening social ties or resolving the conflict in the Middle East – but forcing through the controversial Rwanda asylum plan that is the epitome of institutionalised xenophobia.

But xenophobia is becoming more than normalised in the echelons of political power – it is becoming key to winning elections across Europe, and beyond.

It's all down to the power of fear

From Sweden to Greece, far-right groups and populist leaders are not just participating in elections; they are winning, often in record numbers.

Geert Wilders' ascent in the Netherlands, fueled by decades-worth of anti-Muslim rhetoric, including the promise to ban mosques and the Qur’an, exemplifies how Europe is faced with a political trend not towards integration and acceptance, but hate and exclusion.

And it could get a lot worse.

Should Donald Trump be elected US President this November, the Western world will have turned a new disturbing corner, where minorities become scapegoats for the ills of Western society.

Protesters gather near the US embassy to demonstrate against the travel ban of US president Donald Trump in Berlin, February 2017
Protesters gather near the US embassy to demonstrate against the travel ban of US president Donald Trump in Berlin, February 2017 - Rainer Jensen/AP

Should Donald Trump be elected US President this November, the Western world will have turned a new disturbing corner, where minorities become scapegoats for the ills of Western society.

For example, Trump recently said immigrants were “poisoning the blood [of America]” to raucous applause from crowds.

There is no doubt that his ascent to the White House would herald an even stronger far-right revival, emboldening new populists to emerge from other EU nations.

But why is this divisive rhetoric, key to electoral success, resonating with so many? The answer lies in the power of fear.

Working tirelessly to humanise the other

For example, the great replacement theory that so many far-right populists exhort asserts Western civilization is facing an existential threat in a culture war against Western values.

That narrative, of the West fighting for survival against an imagined onslaught of Islamization, is designed to tap into deep-seated existential fears.

And to some degree, it’s working.

Right wing protestors march to the Port of Dover as they clash with anti-fascist protesters, January 2016
Right wing protestors march to the Port of Dover as they clash with anti-fascist protesters, January 2016 - Gareth Fuller/AP

Europe is being pulled towards far-right ideologies at a scale reminiscent of the preludes to World War II.

It isn’t just a political trend; it's a dangerous slide towards an era of division and hostility, one that will challenge the very foundations of our democratic values.

How then, do we address a trend that threatens to engulf Western Muslims, other minorities, and core Western values of empathy, tolerance, and mutual respect?

Well, for one, we must work tirelessly to humanise the other. History shows that escalating persecution and violence against minorities is always paired with their dehumanization.

A set of values against the far right's divisive rhetoric

This is why education must play a pivotal role. Schools must incorporate curricula that foster a better understanding of Islamic culture through exposure and knowledge of those with different backgrounds.

But education in schools must complement wider education in society.

That’s why my participation in the Conference of European and British Muslim Leaders this past year was a pivotal moment for the British Muslim community.

Ultimately, it’s crucial for leaders and everyday people to unite in a remarkable effort to confront the pervasive hatred in our communities.

Britain's King Charles III receives Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, Secretary General, Muslim World League, during an audience at Buckingham Palace, March 2023
Britain's King Charles III receives Dr. Mohammed Al-Issa, Secretary General, Muslim World League, during an audience at Buckingham Palace, March 2023 - Jonathan Brady/PA

This gathering, orchestrated by the Muslim World League in London convened hundreds of the most influential Muslim figures in Britain. At the centre of the conference was the Charter of Makkah, a sweeping bill of Islamic rights and values backed by over 1,200 scholars from 139 countries which testifies to Islam’s commitment to modern ideals.

For example, the charter emphasizes environmental stewardship, religious tolerance, and women’s rights.

But these values are more than abstract ideals; they are integral to the daily lives of British Muslims. Importantly, they go directly against the divisive rhetoric of far-right extremists.

It's time to put out the fires of extremist ideologies

This matters immensely. Recognising the shared values between British Muslims and the wider society strikes at the root of extremism. And such appreciation strengthens the fabric of our society, bolstering its resilience against divisive forces.

But resilience cannot only come from us. The media, society, and government also have important roles to play.

For example, policy interventions remain crucial. The political obsession with Islamophobia is distracting policymakers from addressing the increase in white nationalist terrorism, which has risen at least 320% in the past decade and increasingly targeting the young.

Ironically, the narratives that far-right parties are spewing against Muslims are precisely the fuel that this extremist ideology depends upon.

This is why governments should develop information campaigns about the dangers of the far-right alongside legislation that protects communities from hate crimes and hate speech.

This is particularly relevant to social media and the online world, where the far-right feels they have a free pass to spread hatred.

It is also time for the UK government to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims' definition of Islamophobia. After all, how can you tackle something you cannot define or understand?

Ultimately, it’s crucial for leaders and everyday people to unite in a remarkable effort to confront the pervasive hatred in our communities.

Because it’s not just minorities that are at risk, it’s the Western world too, and our shared values of freedom, justice and equality.

Naz Shah is a Member of the UK Parliament for Bradford West, serving as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Muslim Women, and Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Race and Community, British Muslims, and others. Shah has also served as Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.

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