Muslims in Europe feel vulnerable to rising hostility over Israel-Gaza

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PARIS, Nov 29 — Jian Omar, a Berlin lawmaker of Kurdish-Syrian background, feels unprotected by police after suffering hate-filled flyers mixed with glass and faeces, a broken window and a hammer-wielding assailant since the deadly October 7 Hamas attack in Israel.

The three incidents at Omar’s constituency office form part of increased hostility to Muslims in Europe fanned at times by politicians since the Hamas assault, more than 30 community leaders and advocates consulted by Reuters said, adding that incidents were under-reported because of low trust in police.

“I feel really alone and if somebody with the status of an elected official can’t be protected then how must others feel?” said Omar. He said police were investigating but had told him they could not offer extra security at his premises.

“Imagine if a white German politician was attacked by a migrant or a refugee,” he said, suggesting security forces would do more in such cases. Berlin police did not reply to a request for comment.

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Hate crime has risen dramatically in Europe since the October 7 assault killed around 1,200 Israelis and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza which has killed around 14,800 Palestinians, with registered antisemitic incidents up 1,240 per cent in London and steep rises also seen in France and Germany.

Official data shows a significant, smaller increase in anti-Muslim incidents in Britain and is patchy for the other two countries. It does not fully capture the extent of attacks and hostility against individuals and mosques, including children targeted at school, according to the people Reuters consulted, some of whom asked not to be named citing fear of retaliation.

Under-reporting is also prevalent among victims of antisemitism, Jewish groups and leaders in the three countries said.

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Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said government language, such as calling pro-Palestinian protests “hate marches,” had made the fight against antisemitism and for the rights of Muslims or Palestinians a zero-sum game in many people’s minds.

“Ministers have been really reckless, this peddling of the culture wars and pitting communities off one another is really unhelpful and it is very divisive and dangerous as well,” she said. The British government did not respond to a question about official use of such language.

European Muslims’ sense of vulnerability was further heightened with the electoral victory last week of Dutch far-right populist Geert Wilders, who previously called for mosques and the Koran to be banned in the Netherlands. In the United States, there has been deadly anti-Palestinian violence since October 7.

At the Ibn Ben Badis Mosque in Nanterre, Paris, elderly worshippers fear attending the dawn prayer in the dark, two worshippers there said, after a written arson threat against the mosque in late October apparently from a far-right sympathiser.

Rachid Abdouni, the mosque president, said a request for extra police protection was not met. Local police said they were patrolling the area but were low on resources, he said. The police did not immediately respond to a comment request.

“Do I want my daughter to grow up in this climate?” said Khalil Raboun, 42, a French-Moroccan taxi driver, speaking after Friday prayers outside the mosque.

Under-reporting

Attempted arson, verbal abuse, vandalism and a pig’s head left at a mosque site were among more than 700 reports of Islamophobic incidents in Britain the month after the Hamas attack, campaign group Tell Mama said, a sevenfold increase over the previous month. Tell Mama only reports some incidents to the police, with the consent of the complainant.

The French Muslim Council received 42 letters containing threats or insults between October 7 and November 1 but has not reported any of them, said council vice president Abdallah Zekri, among a wave of hate mail and racist graffiti on mosques.

“The vast majority of Muslims do not file a complaint when they are victims of such acts. Even the heads of mosques don’t want to. They don’t want to spend two hours or more in a police station to file a complaint that in the end is often going to be dismissed,” Zekri said.

In Germany also, police often do not register Islamophobic crime as such due to a lack of awareness, for example attacks on mosques are sometimes registered simply as damage to property, said Rima Hanano of Claim, an NGO.

“People affected by racism like Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim often fear to go to authorities because they are afraid of secondary victimization, that they will not be believed or made out to be the perpetrators,” she said.

A British government spokesperson said “there must be zero tolerance for antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, or any other forms of hatred,” adding that police were expected to fully investigate such attacks.

Germany’s interior ministry said it “confronts all kinds of hate, including Islamophobia explicitly” and noted it conducted a survey this year it said gave greater understanding of anti-Muslim racism.

In France, interior minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged additional anti-Muslim acts since October 7, however French official figures for 2023 appeared on track for a drop, with 130 incidents through November 14, compared to 188 incidents recorded all last year. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for France’s national police acknowledged data on anti-Muslim incidents was “incomplete”, and relied on victims filing a complaint. Security services are actively monitoring for antisemitic incidents, the spokesperson said.

History

Both France and Germany developed institutional mechanisms to respond to antisemitic acts in the aftermath of the Holocaust of World War Two and in response to continued prejudice against Jews.

Western Europe’s colonial and religious past has also cast Islam as regressive and foreign, contributing to entrenched prejudice among parts of the population and in institutions, said Reza Zia-Ebrahimi, historian at Kings College London and author of ‘Antisemitism and Islamophobia: an entangled history’.

Attacks by Islamist militants in Europe or abroad often bring repercussions for the general Muslim population.

After mosques were defaced and the spread of anti-Muslim commentary by pundits on TV, French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that “to protect French people of Jewish faith should not be to pillory French people of Muslim faith.”

However, historian Zia-Ebrahimi said, the decision by France’s interior ministry to ban pro-Palestinian protests as a risk to public order in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks fomented a view that Arabs are aggressors and that supporters of Palestinians are motivated by antisemitism.

Amnesty International called the blanket ban disproportionate.

Aiman Mazyek of the German Muslim Council said a federal government commissioner on Islamophobia was needed to complement existing commissioners for antisemitism and anti-Roma racism.

“The fact that we have so many commissioners in Germany and no commissioner for Islam in particular is discrimination in itself,” he said.

Germany’s newly appointed commissioner on racism, Reem Alabali-Radovan, acknowledged a need for better monitoring after the interior ministry survey showed one in two Germans hold Islamophobic views.

For some Muslims in Germany, which has welcomed about a million Syrians and just under 400,000 Afghans in recent years, rising hostility came as a surprise.

Ghalia Zaghal came to Germany from Syria in 2015 and said she never had major issues with discrimination. But shortly after October 7, she was shoved twice in one day, with one man shouting at her: “This is my street, not yours.”

“I was too shocked to go to the police,” said Zaghal, who owns a Berlin beauty salon. — Reuters

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