Racism and anti-Muslim hatred grow across the ‘White continent’ as the rise of the political far-right adds to the problem. It’s time for some soul-searching.

Racism in Europe, particularly xenophobia, has been steadily rising over the last few years, as has far-right politics. Comments on domestic and international levels by organisations and individuals highlight both a deeply ingrained and growing superiority complex. 

This past month, reductive depictions, metaphors, and general behaviour towards the ethnic ‘other’ have stirred ire and brought to the foreground the discussion of ‘Eurocentrism’ and increasing moral bankruptcy. 

Throughout all the discrimination and criticisms of other communities, Europe is not able to own up to their contemporary or, more crucially, their past sins. 

France and Qatar

This week French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné dedicated its October edition to ‘criticism’ of Qatar ahead of the Fifa World Cup, publishing a cartoon that depicts “hairy” and “angry” Qatari footballers holding machine guns, machetes, and rocket launchers, some even wearing ski masks.

The issue here is the caricature itself rather than the content/critique – this publication, like many others, expresses the opinion that Arabs, Middle Easterners, and people of colour more generally, are 'savages'. As France has a long history of problematic ‘morally superior’ cartoons this is not a new occurrence, but this does highlight both an ignorant and reductive approach to a complex issue, one in which a French firm may be complicit in. 

It has garnered backlash for being both overtly racist and fulfilling false and damaging orientalist tropes; the mere fact of dedicating an issue to the topic highlights an extension of this moral superiority, or a need to ‘rectify’ according to their hierarchy of values.

The content, much like many headlines today in French media, critiques the Qatari for their alleged human rights violations, which is painfully ironic considering the French government currently has similar claims laid against them. 

This sentiment of harsh critique towards Qatari conduct has come despite French construction firm Vinci Construction – which worked on the FIFA ‘pavilion’ – facing a court case in French for alleged human trafficking and other labour abuses, which the company vehemently denies. 

They further deny any participation in the construction of FIFA-related contracts and claim their work there predates the FIFA contract. France laid the charges on the firm mere weeks before the start of the football event. The campaign is furthered with statements banning live telecasts of World Cup matches in ‘fan areas’ as a retaliatory measure.

The garden and the jungle 

Eurocentrism and its inherent superiority complex is not a new concept; the notion that Europe as the leader of ‘civilisation’ and the encompassing ego that it generates is the psychology that shamelessly colonised large swathes of the world. More contemporarily, collectively creating multi-pronged refugee externalisation policies, specifically against non-Ukrainians. 

The latest iteration of this came with EU Foreign Minister Josep Borell telling an inaugural academy of young diplomats, “Yes, Europe is a garden. We have built a garden. Everything works. It is the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity, and social cohesion that humankind has been able to build. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden.”

He adds, “The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us by different ways and means.” 

Borell has come under heavy fire and a brief suspension for the comments –  and he has since apologised and insisted his metaphor held no sinister meaning. The fact that he is a high-level delegate of foreign relations and is nonetheless this ‘tone-deaf’ is a reason for France to pause and think. This should also prompt the public to reassess the EU’s treatment of foreign peoples. 

Despite repeated military and political interventions by Western powers in many states around the world, ultimately causing today's sharp increase in asylum-seeking migrants, politicians, media, and people are still positioning this issue as an ‘invasion’ of sorts. 

Rise of the far-right

In tandem with this growing neo-Eurocentric stance picked up by many governments, there has been a steady increase in far-right politics (and associated anti-immigration sentiment). Italy and Sweden, for example, are now run by staunch right-wing politicians, and the French far-right has made big political gains this year. While this is problematic and likely frightening for some, it is a historical attitude and not surprising. 

Dr. Ramzy Baroud explains in a new op-ed, “Sadly, Europe is the birthplace of the most horrible pages of history, from colonialism and slavery to the nationalistic, fascist, and nihilistic movements that defined most of the last three centuries.” He criticises their approach to more contemporary incidents such as Syria, Libya, Covid, and Ukraine to highlight increasing moral corruption. 

These incidents also point to an increasing and supported social xenophobia and preferential treatment towards white and Christian refugees, vis-a-vis Muslims and people of colour.

A recent Harvard publication says, “One 2022 study examining over 4,000 asylum applications in France between 1976 and 2016 found that Muslims were less likely than Christians to receive asylum. 

While this study indicates anti-Muslim bias among government officials, a similar 2016 study suggests that regular citizens exhibit similar tendencies. Approximately 18,000 Europeans from 15 countries were given profiles and asked whom they would grant asylum; the study found a “consistent bias against Muslim asylum-seekers, who were 11 percentage points less likely to be accepted than otherwise similar Christians.” 

Moral superiority has never been welcome, and today, it is intolerable, particularly when it is being emitted from an entity that has traumatised generations of land and people. Europe would do well to self-reflect on recent decision-making and the repercussions the continent is now undoubtedly facing. 

Much of the issues the EU is facing are self-inflicted wounds and products of interventionist policies; governments must create cohesive and inclusive approaches to their current issues. In sum, they must seek to humble themselves; after being the cause and effect for the global crisis, it is high time to understand that ‘to err is human,’ and no one or one group of people is above this. 

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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