Civil front against anti-Muslim and anti-migrant culture

A wave of violent and increasingly polemical anti-migrant demonstrations in a number of European countries has been making headlines in recent months. While the role of the far right in instigating these protests is always central, anti-migrant and anti-refugee discourses have also become accepted, actively pursued, and institutionalised by some governments and mainstream political parties.

Meanwhile, amidst growing concerns regarding the ongoing refugee crisis and the future of migration flows into Europe, ‘ordinary citizens’ respond to the climate of fear and hate by turning up in ever-larger numbers in such protests, as recently seen in Italy and Germany – symbolically, the two countries associated with the ghost of fascism in the interwar years. The result is that we are witnessing a dangerous acceleration of anti-migrant rhetoric (both off- and on-line), intimidation, and indeed violence that is threatening to deepen and spread.

For years, human rights NGOs have been warning that anti-migrant attitudes, and anti-Muslim racism in particular, have been creeping into the mainstream of European societies. This trend is now transforming rapidly into an institutionalised culture of calculated uncivility towards immigrants and Muslims – a kind of New Normal that is putting the lives of millions of people at risk and is gravely undermining social cohesion.

The European populist right have been active in building coalitions of hatred that transcend national boundaries. More recently, the prime minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and Italy’s minister of interior Matteo Salvini spoke of a new pan-European anti-migrant alliance obsessed with the idea of closing borders, expelling refugees, and fighting a culture war against Islam and Muslims in Europe. Alarmingly, their brand of uncivility is proving popular with other political leaders and indeed mainstream society.

Against this backdrop, civil society must redouble its efforts at coalition-building to challenge and disrupt the anti-Muslim/anti-migrant culture across Europe before it grows deeper roots in the mainstream and poisons social cohesion. There is already a large number of very effective initiatives involving civil society groups in working relation with political parties, governments, state institutions, and local stakeholders that challenge these anti-migrant narratives and make a real difference in terms of fostering good community relations. In the face of the institutionalisation of anti-Muslim / anti-migrant culture, however, it is now important to think about ways to build a civil coalition that will be even more effective in countering the threats to social cohesion.

EMISCO, the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion, believes that, through civil coalition-building, we can shift the discriminatory and intolerant narratives to a peaceful, constructive, and respectful mindset in the way of normal minority-majority co-existence. To assist this vital effort, EMISCO, in partnership with Thinkout, JCL and CAGE organised this side-event on 13 September 2018 in Warsaw.

Through this side-event, our aim was to highlight the dangerous normalisation of anti-Muslim and anti-migrant / refugee discourses and practices in contemporary Europe; and to explore strategies for facilitating coalition-building among civil society groups and institutions in the direction of challenging the culture of hatred more effectively. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to move this discussion to the heart of OSCE institutions through the Human Dimension meetings and strengthen the ODIHR’s relations and co-operation with NGOs and representatives of Muslim and migrant / refugee communities in the OSCE Region, which are involved in actively challenging the anti-Muslim/-migrant discourses.