First of all, we offer our deepest condolences to the bereaved and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded who were targeted in the magazine and kosher market attacks in France. We pray that such atrocities are never repeated and the world finally sees the days of love and harmonious co-existence that it has been longing for.
Racism is a curious phenomenon in Europe. Officially, it is strictly prohibited, strongly frowned upon and is often punished whenever it is encountered. Unofficially, it is still a menace, boiling underneath the layers of the European societies. Moreover, it gets support; either in the form of a disturbing indifference of bystanders, or the not-so-skillfully disguised state backing.
Racism is hardly a new problem. The identification of the Jews with the devil and witchcraft in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries could well be one of the first prominent examples of European racism. Colonialism led to Africans being ruthlessly targeted, massacred and used as slaves. Their lands were exploited and their communities destroyed. Then in 1870, Social Darwinism rushed to the aid of racists and colonialists and gave them the much-needed pseudo-scientific justification for their horrific crimes. The craze reached its climax in the Twentieth Century, and culminated in Hitler’s massacre of Jews.
Finally in 1945, article 1 of the UN Charter denounced racism and in 2001, the European Union explicitly banned it, along with many other forms of social discrimination.
Today, racism is publicly condemned in Europe. But is it really? Recent developments paint a grim picture and show that the problem did not disappear, but only went underground to simmer quietly. It certainly did not help that European governments never took any serious stance to curb it. They neither organized wide-scaled educational campaigns starting in elementary schools to instill in the minds of their people the equality of all, nor did they make sure that their laws did not tolerate the slightest racist rhetoric or action.
And the problem has only worsened. In the latest European Parliament elections, several right-wing parties, known for their almost racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric, were the clear winners. Here is a brief run-down of the levels of racism in some European countries:
- Greece: Hate crimes against immigrants are rising alarmingly fast. Ashkan Najafi, a native of Iran, was severely beaten and stabbed 12 times in Piraeus, a port city south of Athens. He required at least 60 stitches. Ali Rahimi, an Afghan asylum seeker, was stabbed five times in the torso in September 2011. HRW reports that dozens of foreigners that they talked to, including two pregnant women, had been beaten, kicked, dragged off buses, and chased down the streets of Athens. The police actively discourage many victims from filing complaints. To date, no one has yet been convicted under the hate crimes law.
Racial discrimination appears to have been tolerated by the newly elected Greek parliament and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government, according to a new report by the nonprofit group Human Rights First.
- Sweden: The first country in the world to introduce a research center for racial biology. Swedish Minister for Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, during a ceremony, cut a cake depicting a stereotypical African woman. According to a report, almost 40% of the interviewed said they had witnessed verbal abuse directed at Muslims. The European Network Against Racism in Sweden claims that in today's Sweden, there exists a clear ethnic hierarchy where ethnic Swedes are at the top and non-European immigrants are at the bottom.
- France: In a country which approved a bill to remove the word “race” from the country’s law books, Marine Le Pen not long ago compared Muslims to Nazis, and came in third place in presidential elections. 10,000 Roma were deported from France and a black Cabinet Minister was called a monkey. Jews and Muslims have been increasingly targeted in hate crimes, and Muslim women were banned from wearing burkas. Last week, the world witnessed and denounced the two terrorist attacks in Paris that left many dead at the Charlie Hebdo offices and Kosher food store. The attacks were carried out by radicals who claim to have done these violent acts in the name of Islam.
- Britain: In this country, famous for the noble and kind demeanor of its people, riots caused by ethnic tensions have been a common sight since 1919. Hate-crimes targeting Muslims and Asian people especially are rising alarmingly fast. The British Crime Survey reveals that in 2004, 87,000 people from black or minority ethnic communities said they had been a victim of a racially motivated crime. They suffered 49,000 violent attacks, with 4,000 being wounded.
- Germany: Although thoroughly ashamed by their history of Hitler, the country has strangely failed to stem racism. The disturbing hatred of different ethnicities steadily increased and culminated in violent attacks against foreigners. Neo-Nazis continuously assaulted Turks and Muslims. Some of the most horrific incidents marring the image of Germany are the Solingen Arson Attack of 1993 that caused the deaths of five members of a Turkish family (three girls and two women) after Neo-Nazis set their house on fire and the murders by the Neo-Nazi group NSU. The group killed 10 people between 2000-2007: Eight of them were Turks.
More recently, right-wingers have been organizing weekly rallies called PEGIDA against Muslims. In the most recent rally, 17,000 people showed up despite the cold December air.
Germany's BfV puts the number of right-wing extremist offenses at several hundred in the area of Nuremberg alone. Many of the perpetrators aren't even trying to keep a low profile. Michael Helmbrecht and his family were harassed for three days by 250 neo-Nazis who had taken up position on a plot of land they had deliberately rented close to his house. Migrants and people actively fighting right-wing extremism are spied on and targeted; the perpetrators are seldom found. Many citizens turn a blind eye to these neo-Nazi attacks because they are afraid to end up on the target list themselves.
Despite this grim picture, racism can be stemmed for good. The real solution is targeting the wrong ideas in people’s minds. They should be taught, starting in elementary school, that differences in humans, be it race, color, language or faith, is a richness to be cherished. It is a gift. No human being is superior to another simply because of his race. Once this notion finds its way into the hearts and minds of the beautiful people of Europe, the horror of racism will be history for good.
Adnan Oktar's piece on MBC Times: