Subscribe to The TurkEU Blog by Email

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Austria documents spike in extreme-right hate crimes | The Washington Post

The Washington Post reports a significant rise in xenophobic crimes in Austria last year.
Austrian authorities say hate crimes by the extreme right spiked 28 percent last year.

Islamophobia has grown in recent years in Austria, in addition to stubborn anti-Semitic sentiment on the part of some citizens. The rightist Freedom Party, which includes fringe neo-Nazi supporters, has exploited such anti-Muslim feelings to gain popularity.
Austria documents spike in extreme-right hate crimes - The Washington Post

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On freedom of speech

The Swedish newspaper Metro is today breaking the news that the group of three men who were arrested in Sweden on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, were planning to assassinate the artist Lars Vilks.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Vilks, he is a provocative conceptual artist and author with a Ph.D. in Art History (actually, a better translation would be Art Theory) who most famously portrayed the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog in a series of drawings exhibited in 2007.

More recently (May of 2010), he gave a talk at Uppsala University during which he screened Iranian artist Sooreh Hera's Allah ho gaybar - in which two men wearing masks depicting Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali are shown in various "sexually provocative positions," according to Wikipedia.

As a result of his Muhammad drawings, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq (now captured) placed a bounty on Vilks' head in 2007 and the artist has since lived under constant threat. Last year, a Swedish member of the Somali terrorist network Al-Shabaab also declared a death threat against Vilks. There have been several attempts at his life, and the spectacle at Uppsala University was interrupted when several angry members of the audience stormed the stage.

I have made my position on Vilks' Muhammad drawings and the Danish Muhammad cartoons clear elsewhere (link to an article in Swedish). There is a long tradition of ridiculing and belittling the Muslim prophet in Christian polemics, and widespread prejudice toward and stereotypes of Muslims in today's Europe, and I find this deeply troubling and unfortunate. Vilks' and Jyllandsposten's provocations are part of a broader pattern, and it is no coincidence that Vilks is featured prominently on Islamophobic blogs like Gates of Vienna.

However, in this particular post I want to focus exclusively on freedom of speech. And more precisely, I would like to reaffirm the right of an artist or writer to express him/herself freely - within the bounds of the law - without having to fear violent retribution. This freedom extends to the right to offend, even if people like myself disapprove of the contents.

To be sure, an artist making deeply offensive and provocative statements or drawings - even ones that, like several of the Muhammad cartoons, verge on racism (as long as it stops short of constituting hate speech or the Swedish legal equivalent: agitation against an ethnic group/people) - such an artist should expect vigorous debate and harsh criticism, and perhaps even such 'retaliation' as consumer boycots. But (s)he should not have to suffer through violent attacks against his/her person or the threat thereof.

There is much more to say on these issues - and I have said some of it elsewhere - but there is also a need for critics of Western and European Islamophobia to stand up and clearly express our support for the principle of freedom of speech. That is what I am doing now.

Freedom of speech is a basic and essential cornerstone of a free, open, and democratic society. In such societies, people of all faiths, persuasions, and ethnicities can ideally coexist and express their differences, whether as groups or as individuals, if granted the right of free expression. Thanks to this right they can vocally express their divergent views of what their society should look like, criticize the powers and policies that be as well as criticize, for example, the peddlers of Islamophobia. If this foundation is attacked, however, it constitutes an attack on democracy as such, for without the former the latter means nothing.

There are limits to this freedom of speech (shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, as the classic example goes) but those limits are not the subject of this post. Here I simply want to reaffirm my strong belief that as long as speech stays within those legal limits, it must be allowed and the speaker must be free from violence or the threat thereof.

All violence and threats against Lars Vilks must be strongly denounced and should cease immediately. There are better ways of expressing one's disapproval, preferably by using one's right to free speech.

UPDATE: I added the last paragraph after re-reading my original post, just to underline my position on the issue that prompted this post in the first place.
Vilks var terrormål - - Senaste nytt | Expressen - Nyheter Sport Ekonomi Nöje

Friday, September 9, 2011

Turkish leader concerned about Islamophobia in Europe | RT

(Almost) all my diverse research foci converge when Russia Today (RT) reports Abdullah Gül's remarks about the increasing racism and Islamophobia in Europe:
The Turkish leader noted that “increasing ethnic, cultural and religious tensions can result in tensions and division in society,” but it is the state that must control these processes.

“The task of the state is to secure for all its citizens, regardless of religion, language and race, equal constitutional rights and…equal opportunities,” Abdullah Gul said.
One can, of course, point out that making remarks like these while the Turkish military is embarked on a campaign against Kurdish insurgents in Eastern Anatolia invites accusations of throwing rocks while living in a glass house.

But from the Turkish perspective, the same can be said for criticism against Turkish discrimination of Kurds, coming from EU member states in which ethnic Turks and other minority groups face systematic discrimination. And given the large number of Turks living in the EU, racism and Islamophobia that targets these exile communities are legitimate concerns for the Turkish state.

Take Sweden, where I live, as an example. A wonderful country in most ways, which treats newly arrived immigrants better than most other countries, with subsidized entry-level jobs, paid for Swedish language education etc. Still, experimental research shows that even here immigrants are severely discriminated against.

One meta-study (source in Swedish) of experimental research on discrimination on the job and housing markets, reported the following findings: CVs sent by persons with Arabic-sounding names receive between 50% to 88% fewer responses from employers than identical CVs with traditional Swedish names. There were similar results on the very tough Swedish housing market (50-60%). And my hunch is that even these shockingly high numbers hide the true extent of discrimination given the importance of informal contacts in getting both jobs and rental housing in Sweden.

As for the recent rise in Islamophobia, the last chapter of my book examines the increasingly hostile - and, from the far right, Islamophobic - rhetoric evident in the European Parliament in recent years.

The point is: Gül has a point.

Increasing Islamophobia in Europe dangerous trend – Turkish leader — RT

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Turkey to return religious minorities' property | EurActiv

From Euractiv:
The Turkish government will reportedly return properties confiscated from religious minorities since 1936, in a step that seemingly addresses European concerns about the treatment of minorities in the EU candidate member.

"This is not about doing a favour; this is about rectifying an injustice," Erdoğan said of the landmark decision, which concerns hundreds of hospitals, schools, cemeteries and orphanages listed in a 1936 census.

Turkey to return religious minorities' property | EurActiv
Ping your podcast