The ongoing and increasing effort to criminalise Islam throughout Europe, a continent that prides itself on being a bastion of liberal and pluralistic values, operates under many guises and covert methods, all of which have a singular purpose: To make life as difficult for Muslims as lawfully possible.
European parliaments are legalising Islamophobia at breakneck speeds, with European citizens becoming increasingly fixated on what Muslims can and cannot wear in public.
Consider that France became the first to ban the Islamic face veil in 2011, but since then only six of the 28 EU countries haven’t considered banning headscarves and face veils, those six being Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Romania.
Countries that have passed general national laws that criminalise wearing the face veil include France, Belgium, Bulgaria, and Austria, while Denmark and Spain have enacted bans in specific public settings or sectors, according to a recent report by Open Society Foundation.
All of this is taking place as far-right political parties and movements spread throughout Europe at rate alarmingly similar to the Nazi military in the late 1930s to early 1940s.
Moreover, some European states are going even further than France, Belgium, Denmark and others in their respective efforts to stifle and repress the rights of Muslim minorities and expression of the Islamic faith.
Slovakia, for instance, recently passed a law that effectively outlaws Islam for the foreseeable future and/or forever.
Given Muslims represent only 0.4 percent of the population, Slovakia’s anti-Islam law represents a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist
The bill changed a pre-existing law that stated a religion must attain 20,000 followers (signatures) before it can be considered a state religion.
Without that legal status, a religion is deemed unlawful by the state, deeming it ineligible for government tax subsidies, while, at the same time, forbidding public houses of worship. The new law, however, doubled the threshold from 25,000 to 50,000 signatures.
Given Muslims represent only 0.4 percent of the population, Slovakia’s anti-Islam law represents a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, but Slovak politicians haven’t tried to conceal their motive behind this bill. In fact, they have publicly stated it’s intended to outlaw all aspects of Muslim life in the country forever.
“Islamisation starts with a kebab and it’s already under way in Bratislava, let’s realise what we will face in five to 10 years,” said Slovak National Party (SNP) chairman Andrej Danko in an interview with Reuters. “We must do everything we can so that no mosque is built in the future.”
As it stands, there are roughly 5,000 Muslims in Slovakia, but not a single mosque. This law restricts the day-to-day life of Slovak Muslims in very harmful and repressive ways. Not only are they denied basic rights regarding freedom of speech and expression, but also they can’t have religious leaders, perform Islamic marriages, nor can they receive funding or assistance from the government, unlike the members of 18 other registered religions in the country.
“As Muslims, we do really need to be recognised and to have a feeling that we are well accepted and well integrated by the government, by the society. We as Muslims, we are citizens. We have, beside our duties, also some rights,” said Mohamad Safwan Hasna, chairman of Islamic Foundation Slovakia, in a recent interview with TRT World.
Moreover, failing to recognise Islam as a religion means schools are not allowed to teach their students about the religious faith and/or the contributions Muslims have made towards technology, medicine, philosophy and the natural sciences, which also denies students being knowledgeable about the historical presence of Muslims in Slovakia.
“There is no mention of the contribution of Arabic travel books to the reconstruction of the history of Central and Eastern Europe in the early middle Ages,” observes Jozef Lenc and Monika Zavis, Slovakian authors of a recent report into Islamophobia in Slovakia.
“In Slovakia, we do not even teach anything about the Muslim communities of early Hungary (for example, around Nitra) or the contributions of the Tatars, who settled in the territory of today’s Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, to the Polish army and society.”
This climate of anti-Muslim animus is urging Slovak politicians to expand the 2017 bill by more than quadrupling the number of signatures required to attain status as a legal religion
This, according to Lenc and Zavis, is creating the intellectual space for Islamophobia to thrive and proliferate, which also creates space for political entrepreneurs, particularly on the right, to exploit and mobilise a political base.
For instance, a prominent Member of Parliament, Stanislav Mizik, recently stated, “Every normal European, Christian or atheist, has to fear this satanic-paedophile creation of the devil, which is the religion of Islam.”
“Most often Islam is associated with terrorism – in fact all Slovak media use the word ‘jihad’ as a synonym for ‘terrorism,’ and ‘jihadists’ as a synonym for ‘terrorists.’ This creates a societal image that all Muslims who act as jihadists are terrorists, and that terrorism in the form of jihad is a part of Islam,” observe Lenc and Zavis.
This climate of anti-Muslim animus is urging Slovak politicians to expand the 2017 bill by more than quadrupling the number of signatures required to attain status as a legal religion, but even more concerning is the fact that hate crimes against Muslims in Slovakia are on the rise, like pretty much everywhere else across the continent.
They are creating the intellectual space for Islamophobia to thrive and proliferate
At the heart of these European anti-Muslim laws is the fear of terrorism, with right-wing politicians foolishly and dangerously espousing the misguided notion that being tough on Muslims will defeat “Islamic” terrorism, despite the fact that counterterrorism academics and practitioners contend the exact opposite – that social cohesion, pluralism, equality and inclusion are the enemies of violent extremism.
Slovakia, unfortunately, is yet another example of a modern European state falling victim to the worse impulses and imaginary of fears of a more virulent and threatening far-right.
CJ Werleman is the author of ‘Crucifying America’, ‘God Hates You, Hate Him Back’ and ‘Koran Curious’, and is the host of Foreign Object.