Presidency’s Director of Communications Prof. Fahrettin Altun delivered the keynote speech at a web panel in which the “European Islamophobia Report 2019” by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) was presented.
In his speech, Director of Communications Prof. Fahrettin Altun stated that for five consecutive years now, SETA delivered a valuable public service by publishing the European Islamophobia Report, and indicated that over the years, the Report enabled people around the world to monitor the evolution of anti-Muslim racism in Europe and at the same time encapsulated European concerns about certain social and political trends in the continent.
Noting that the European Islamophobia Report was not necessarily about Turkish concerns or the Turkish perspective, but the concerns of Europeans themselves, Altun said, “It is not about pointing fingers, but a call for open and honest dialogue among friends. In this sense, I would like to acknowledge the European Union’s financial support to this crucial project and welcome the continued cooperation between the Union and relevant organizations.”
Stressing that anti-Muslim racism was not an inherently European problem, Altun noted the following:
“It is a global threat that places at risk human lives everywhere, from Southeast Asia to the United States. Some recent examples immediately come to mind: Every year, thousands of people die or suffer injuries in India, where Hindu nationalists systematically displace and intimidate native Muslim communities. In Myanmar, a Nobel Peace Prize winner has been actively involved in acts of genocide targeting Muslims. Finally, in New Zealand, a far-right terrorist, inspired by earlier European gunmen, claimed dozens of victims at a local mosque last year.
Nonetheless, Europe can and should be where the war on Islamophobia starts. This is because the continent has a unique history: Generations of Europeans have profited from the Atlantic slave trade. For centuries, European empires colonized distant lands and exploited their resources to enrich themselves. Over the last hundred years, some of the worst atrocities in history, including the Holocaust, took place in Europe. Some of the deadliest ideologies, from fascism to communism, flourished there. Against that grim background, however, Europeans learned from their mistakes and engaged in self-criticism to create a new social contract based on democracy, human rights and liberty. It is that capacity for self-improvement that Europeans must tap into today to overcome the challenge of anti-Muslim racism. This is what makes the European Islamophobia Report all the more important.”
Fahrettin Altun said that the European Islamophobia Report 2019 showed that the situation was getting worse by the day.
Stating that first of all, there had been a notable increase in the number of attacks against Muslims, Islamic places of worship and community centres, Altun said, “Worse still, we have witnessed exponential growth in those numbers over the last five years. The frequency of those attacks contributes to their normalization and results in victims being blamed for those crimes. Indeed, the atrocities generated such an atmosphere of fear that only a fraction of Muslims, who have been discriminated against, report their cases to the authorities.”
Stressing that the international far-right networks continued to operate with near-total impunity in Europe, Altun said, “One of those organizations is The Hannibal Network, which has been active in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. That this group has managed to recruit former and current soldiers and police officers speaks to the gravity of the threat to Muslims and European democracies alike. The alarming popularity of Great Replacement and other conspiracy theories not only weaken the fabric of European societies but also renders them more and more vulnerable to disinformation campaigns and other hostile information operations.”
Touching upon the complicity of European media outlets in the rise and normalization of anti-Muslim racism in the continent, Fahrettin Altun made the following remarks:
“Although the mainstream media opposes Islamophobia out of political correctness, it has had no problem glorifying far-left terrorism. Especially in Syria and Iraq, where foreign terrorist fighters have been flocking, the media coverage has almost exclusively been about European Muslims joining terrorist groups including DAESH and Al Qaeda. The Western media, however, either ignored or celebrated foreign terrorist fighters joining the ranks of PKK and other far-left terrorist groups. This bias enabled certain groups, including ANTIFA, to exploit anti-Muslim racism in Europe to radicalize and lead young people to their deaths.
Worse still, individuals, who were radicalized and trained by far-left terrorist groups, pose a serious threat to Muslims in Europe, whom they view as part of the so-called invasion. Although some European nations, including the United Kingdom, have taken preliminary steps to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters that joined the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, YPG, most individuals continue to enjoy impunity. Keeping in mind that over 5 million Turks live in the continent today, this deliberate act of oversight is a source of grave concern for the Government of Turkey.”
Director of Communications Altun stated that the ‘securitization of Islam and European Muslims’ had been another source of concern in recent years.
Underlining that the European governments, opinion leaders and policymakers must stop treating Islam as a security threat and Muslims as potential criminals, Altun stated, “Unfortunately, there has been a shortage of leadership in this area: Instead of defending Muslim Europeans and upholding anti-discrimination laws, mainstream political parties moved to appropriate anti-Muslim racism and appease extremists. Without further delay, we urge European leaders to right this wrong and correct their course.”
Fahrettin Altun added, “Another source of concern is related to the Coronavirus pandemic. With the world economy expected to shrink by 5.5 percent this year, it is highly likely that we will witness a spike in violence against Muslims and Islamic places of worship in Europe. Keeping in mind that the most recent wave of racism coincided with the refugee crisis of 2015-2016, European governments must clearly take necessary precautions in due time. Failure to act now and stop violent attacks before they occur would cast serious doubt on the European Union’s commitment to equality and diversity.”
Altun stressed that as an advocate of diversity and equality, the Republic of Turkey had taken historic steps to combat religious discrimination under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership.
Fahrettin Altun continued his remarks as follows:
“As is known, in the 2000s, the Turkish government facilitated the return of non-Muslim charities’ previously confiscated properties to their rightful owners. Today, as mosques and Muslim community centres come under attack in Europe, we continue to use public resources to restore churches and synagogues. In line with the principle of equal citizenship, we celebrate all religious communities, which we view as part and parcel of Turkish society. From the Akdamar Church in Van to the Great Synagogue of Edirne, we will continue to preserve our nation’s diverse cultural heritage.
At the same time, the Turkish government is working closely with its friends and allies to combat discrimination, hate speech and the incitement of violence against Muslims. Last September, the President, together with the leaders of Malaysia and Pakistan, signed off on the establishment of an Istanbul-based, English-language media and communications centre to confront the challenges posed by Islamophobia. Building on the leaders’ meeting in New York, we signed a memorandum of understanding in Malaysia and we expect Pakistan to get on board shortly. The Directorate of Communications remains in talks with our partner institutions to launch this project as soon as possible. The involvement of European governments in similar projects would indeed be a welcome step and send a powerful message of love and solidarity against hate.”
Director of Communications Prof. Fahrettin Altun added, “Turkey and the European Union are close partners in a broad range of areas, and we can certainly cooperate more closely against anti-Muslim racism. In this regard, the Turkish government is prepared to support efforts by our European friends to promote equality for Muslims and other religious communities. I am confident that together, we can overcome this very serious challenge and build a safer future for everyone.”
At the end of his speech, Director of Communications Altun extended his gratitude for the SETA Foundation for publishing this timely report and maintaining their commitment to documenting Islamophobia in Europe.