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European Islamophobia Report: MEMO in conversation with Dr Farid Hafez

Following the publication of the latest edition of the European Islamophobia Report (EIR) covering the year 2020, MEMO interviewed the co-Editor, Farid Hafez, on its regular show.

Hafez is a visiting professor of International Studies at Williams College and a non-resident senior researcher at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative at the School of Foreign Service. He is also the founder of the EIR, a yearly study that analyses the state of anti-Muslim racism in 32 European countries.

The conversation began with Farid providing a brief history of the genesis of the reports and its aims. He recalled how, despite wide recognition and awareness of Islamophobia, state authorities were often reluctant to address anti-Muslim racism because of a lack of data. "EIR provides that fact that you cannot deny its existence," said Farid adding "Islamophobia is here; Islamophobia is a problem."

Being a victim of Islamophobia himself, Farid relayed his own experience about the culture of anti-Muslim racism that is spreading across Europe. In 2020, Vienna police rammed into Farid Hafez's two-storey apartment and pointed their guns at the political scientist and his family.

The incident took place a week after an Austrian man, who had been jailed before for trying to join Daesh but released after attending a de-radicalisation programme, killed four people and injured more than 20 others in the Austrian capital.

On the same day, the raid on Hafez's home took place. Austria's Interior Minister called it "Operation Luxor", in which some 60 homes of Muslim activists and academics were searched. The Austrian court has ruled that the raid on his home is illegal.

Following his ordeal, the Austria-born and raised lecturer released a short film, providing details of his life, career and the encounter.

There is an ongoing GoFund campaign to help with the legal expenses.

Speaking of Farid, John Esposito, professor at Georgetown University said that "Farid is a prominent international scholar. I have seen him in action," adding that Georgetown had hired him based on his "significant corpus" of work.

Esposito warned that "If something [the raid] like this can happen to him, a successful and mainstream citizen, it raises questions … what is happening here?"

It was pointed out that certain social, cultural and political conditions made a raid on the home of a well-known Muslim academic like him possible. Conditions which the report documents at great length. Farid was asked to comment on the common threads connecting Islamophobia across Europe.

The mention of the rise in far-right violent anti-Muslim groups segued neatly to a question about the decision to place a photo of French President, Emmanuelle Macron, on the cover of the report instead of a far-right extremist who openly calls for the violent expulsion of Muslims from Europe.

Farid explained that, no matter how bad the far right is, they are mostly on the margins. The problem is not only far right groups who put discursive pressure. Centrist politicians, on the other hand, are adopting some of their rhetoric, be it in less blatantly racist manner, he said. Macron used the murder of Samuel Paty to crackdown on normal Muslims and anti-racist organisations. Macron also went after Muslims exposing racism, dismissing their work as "dangerous knowledge that divides French society" said Farid. The French President was "against knowledge production, going against freedom of speech and calling the Islamophobia of liberals critical" Farid observed.

Farid was asked if the authoritarian practices of France and Austria towards their Muslim citizens was a template for other European countries, if whether state level Islamophobia was a bigger threat. "Both France and Austria see themselves as templates for others to follow," said Farid. He, nevertheless, believes that countries like the UK will not take a similar authoritarian turn. Farid explained that it is easier to have discussion about Islamophobia in the UK and the US, where Washington's report on religious freedom has criticised the authoritarian developments in France and Austria. "They have their eyes on this," he said.

The discussion ended with a question about a report by Council on American-Islamic Relations which found that an eye-watering $106 million was poured into 26 Islamophobia Network groups between 2017 – 2019. Is there an equivalent network in Europe?

"There are definitely groups interested in disenfranchising Muslims, criminalising Muslim activism," Farid said. He mentioned courtiers in Eastern Europe, where groups are trying to diminish Muslim contribution and stoke anti-Muslim sentiments. They are trying to create knowledge to criminalise Muslims, including cultural Muslims. A wide range of actors are involved in fuelling anti-Muslim racism.

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