By Bridge Initiative Team, Washington DC, January 2022
WASHINGTON - Overall, 2021 demonstrated that Islamophobia remains a constant and growing threat around the globe. Anti-Muslim racism in 2021 remained ever present as hate crimes and individual attacks targeting Muslims persisted.
Across the globe, the key players of anti-Muslim racism were again states themselves, as this year witnessed increasing discriminatory legislation and policies.
China continued to deny the growing body of evidence pointing to genocide being committed against Uyghur Muslims and an international tribunal was held in the U.K. with testimony from survivors of Xinjiang’s concentration camps.
In Canada, a man killed a Muslim family of four in a horrific calculated hit-and-run, leading to Canadian Muslims demanding the government take concrete measures to tackle Islamophobic violence.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s government took a page from China’s book by implementing legislation aimed at constructing a state-approved Islam, resulting in widespread discrimination targeting Muslim civil society and curtailing the rights of French Muslims, especially women.
Similarly, the Austrian government took measures to intimidate and silence Austrian Muslim activists and organizations, even going so far as to publish a map detailing the locations of hundreds of mosques and associations. In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative party persisted in evading calls to address institutional Islamophobia within its ranks.
State hostility and prejudice towards Muslims was present across the European continent, with rulings aimed at restricting Muslim identity such as halal meat and hijab bans. In India, the country’s growing Hindu nationalist forces retained last year’s theme of conspiracy theories, claiming Indian Muslims were engaging in “love jihad,” “economic jihad,” and even “narcotics jihad.”
Additionally, there were large episodes of anti-Muslim violence in various parts of the country such as Tripura, Gurgaon, and Assam, all of which were supported by the rising Hindu nationalist voices. The year was also spent uncovering the role of social media platforms in larger campaigns of violence targeting Muslims as seen in India and Myanmar.
In the United States, the country marked twenty years since the deadly September 11th attacks and reckoned with the impacts and consequences of two decades of the War on Terror at home and abroad.
2021 demonstrated that Islamophobia remains a constant and growing threat around the globe. Anti-Muslim racism in 2021 remained ever present as hate crimes and individual attacks targeting Muslims persisted. Across the globe, the key players of anti-Muslim racism were again states themselves, as this year witnessed increasing discriminatory legislation and policies.
United States: With the inauguration of Joe Biden as the country’s 46th president, American Muslims welcomed the new administration and celebrated as Biden reversed Trump’s Muslim Ban. While applauding the measure, many noted that a reversal would not bring back the time and lives lost as a result of the previous discriminatory measure, and called on Biden to use this moment to tackle the presence of anti-Muslim racism in society, calling for accountability and justice.
India: Throughout 2021, Indian Muslims found themselves on the receiving end of countless mob attacks and state violence as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government continued to embolden the country’s right-wing Hindu nationalist forces. Further, conspiracy theories constructing Indian Muslims as a threat to the Hindu majoritarian population gained credibility thanks to the rhetoric and actions of politicians and the government.
The right-ward shift in the subcontinent also led many commentators and experts in the region to fear that Modi’s rule was leading to a decay in the world’s largest democracy as journalists critical of the government were targeted and imprisoned and counter-terror legislation was used to silence critics. In a testament to increasing state hostility, even elite actors and actresses of India’s Bollywood were not immune to the Hindu nationalist government’s assault on free speech.
China: In 2021, the world heard more personal testimonies from Uyghurs who had survived China’s network of concentration camps as a growing international movement called on countries to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. This year also involved Chinese authorities restructuring their targeting of Uyghurs, moving many prisoners to forced labor camps and institutionalizing discriminatory practices, such as removing domes from mosques, aimed at erasing Uyghur culture and identity.
Growing calls from activists and rights organizations for action from the international community also contributed to an unofficial tribunal held in the UK, which found that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is committing genocide, a conclusion made by a number of countries this year including the Canadian parliament, MPs in the UK, Dutch parliament, and the Lithuanian parliament.
China’s campaign targeting Uyghurs goes back decades and must be understood in the settler-colonial context of the region. However, following 9/11 and the introduction of the war on terror discourse, Chinese authorities adopted this rhetoric framing Uyghur Muslims as a security threat to the state and began slowly criminalizing various aspect of Uyghur culture and identity, all under the banner of tackling the “three evil forces” of separatism, extremism, and terrorism. The establishment of concentration camps, dubbed “re-education” centers by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in 2017 and the projected growth of these fortresses of torture and psychological manipulation is just one aspect of China’s wider campaign in the occupied Uyghur homeland (which Chinese authorities refer to as Xinjiang).
In 2021, the world heard more harrowing stories from survivors of China’s crackdown in the region: a project involving torture, rape, detention, indoctrination, and psychological abuse.
Europe: In 2021, Islamophobia in Europe was further institutionalized within policies and programs that effectively criminalized Muslim civil society on the continent. In France, President Emmanuel Macron introduced the anti-Separatism law restricting the rights of French Muslim citizens and essentially forcing Muslims religious leader to take an oath of loyalty. Meanwhile in Switzerland, the government approved a ban on the burqa, adding to the growing number of countries that have restricted Muslim women’s right to religious freedom.
The trend on the continent has been to construct Europe’s Muslims as both a security and cultural threat, using arguments framed under counterterrorism and secularism to justify discriminatory and harmful rhetoric and practices that have severely curtailed the basic rights of Muslims.
In a review of 2021, Austrian academic and Bridge Senior Researcher Farid Hafez described the Europe’s right-ward shift as the continent entering an age of “McCarthyism against Islam,” with government policies framing Muslim citizenry as potential threats, suspicious, and ultimately untrustworthy. With the current status quo, it appears that “guilty until proven innocent increasingly becomes authorities’ approach to Muslims,” and Hafez demonstrated this by highlighting France, Austria, and Denmark’s collective approach to fighting “political Islam.”
In neighboring France, President Emmanuel Macron solidified his presidency as one marked by state-led Islamophobia, where under his leadership the government instituted measures that stigmatized and collectively punished France’s nearly 6 million Muslims. Much like Austria, Macron’s government hinged on the “political Islam” boogeyman to justify measures that not only severely curtailed the rights of Muslims but many argued also was an attack on French secularism. In late 2020, under the guise of fighting “political Islam,” Macron gave Muslim religious leaders an ultimatum, essentially forcing Imams to sign a charter or otherwise be considered a threat and enemy to the state. In March 2021, a coalition of civil society organizations urged the European Commission to investigate France at the European Court of Justice over the charter, saying that it “violates Muslims’ right to free speech and religious freedoms.”
In 2020, Macron also introduced the anti-separtism bill, which was approved by Members of Parliament in February 2021 and adopted by the National Assembly on July 23, 2021.
French legal scholar Rim-Sarah Alouane described the bill as an “attack” on civil liberties, stating, “I see a blatant attack on freedom of association. This bill has no safeguards of potential abuse from public authorities,” and further noted that “French Muslims are paying the price of the failure of the state to prevent terrorist attacks from happening.” Further the bill also included measures aimed at increasing restrictions on Muslim women’s ability to wear the hijab, with the argument of religious neutrality used to extend the hijab ban to private companies under contract with the state.
In January 2021, a coalition of thirty-six organizations from thirteen countries submitted a twenty-eight-page document to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), calling on the international body to “open formal infringement procedures against France’s government for entrenching Islamophobia and structural discrimination against Muslims.” The organizations alleged that under Macron’s governance, France’s recent “actions and policies in relation to Muslim communities violated international and European laws.”
Many critics noted that these actions were being taken by the government to play on the ongoing culture wars, and to silence any group or individual who called out the government’s Islamophobia, by linking anyone on the left with “‘Islamism,’ the eternal bogeyman in French society.”
The measures aimed at dismantling French Muslim civil society remained in force as a French court confirmed the dissolution of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), a leading anti-discrimination group that tracked Islamophobia in the country. Adding to this, in 2021 the government shut down a Muslim publishing house. In October 2021, Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin announced the government would close 7 more mosques and associations in the country by the end of the year, and stated that since Macron had taken office, “some 13 associations have been closed along with 92 of the 2,500 mosques in the country.” Under the pretense of tackling “radicalization” and “political Islam,” the French government has taken measures to dismantle Muslim civil society and strike fear in the French Muslim community.
Experts, commentators, and writers all noted how the current political climate in France involved a surge in the far-right and an overall massive shift right-ward in the country. Given the upcoming 2022 presidential elections, it appears that candidates in the running to lead the country are attempting to outdo each other when it comes to blatant anti-Muslim bigotry.
In 2021, Europe continued on a right-ward path as anti-Muslim racism became the norm in media, politics, and society. While some political leaders dragged their feet in addressing the issue of Islamophobia, many others openly incorporated dangerous and discriminatory anti-Muslim rhetoric into their agenda.
Canada: In July of 2021, Mustafa Farooq of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) made a chilling observation: “The reality is that Canada has suffered more mass killings motivated by Islamophobia in the last five years than any other country in the G7. This cannot be allowed to continue.” Farooq’s comments came a little over a month after a deadly targeted hit-and-run in London, Ontario that killed four members of a Canadian Muslim family, with the sole survivor being a 9-year-old boy. The incident sent shockwaves across the country, and Canadian Muslims called on the government to take greater action against rising anti-Muslim hatred in the country beginning with tackling bigoted rhetoric and support for discriminatory policies amongst those in power.