EU collects ′too little′ data on anti-Muslim attacks | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.08.2013

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EU collects 'too little' data on anti-Muslim attacks

British organization Tell Mama collects statistics on incidents of violence and hostility against Muslims. Some experts now accuse EU countries of not running a similar, large-scale database.

"I've had multiple attacks: I was spat at, I was punched and I was brutally attacked," reported a female victim who wishes to remain anonymous. "I was punched from the head to the shoulders and then deliberately run over when I was six months' pregnant in front of my son and my husband."

The woman, clad in a headscarf, portrays her experience in a video on the website of Tell Mama - a UK organization that registers attacks on Muslims in real life and online. The incidents are reported by the victims themselves, either by telephone, text message or via the Internet. "Mama" is an abbreviation for "Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks."

Since January 2012, Tell Mama has been offering assistance via a telephone helpline. It is supported by a network of volunteers and its Internet site is maintained by a religious foundation. According to Tell Mama's director, Fiyaz Mughal, the organization registered nearly 1,200 attacks in England and Wales over a period of 18 months. He said that the rate of such attacks tends to spike following a major national or international conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims. After a British soldier was brutally murdered by two Islamists in London on May 22, the number of anti-Muslim incidents, most of them online, increased eightfold.

Widespread online abuse

Screenshot of the Tell Mama website

Tell Mama collects reports of attacks and abuse via phone, text message and Internet

An overwhelming number of the attacks do not take place on the street but online, Mughal told DW. People who appear to be Muslim, such as women in headscarves, are often targeted and insulted on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. This includes serious death threats. The far-right English Defence League protest movement is particularly active in anti-Islam Internet campaigning.

"The activity online is huge," said Mughal. "The street-based activity happens, but it's not significant right now, whereas the online activity of anti-Muslim prejudice is very significant. It's a very concerted, determined effort by far-right followers, anti-Muslim individuals and racist individuals, but also people who generally dislike Muslims."

Attacks on Muslims are also on the rise in France, wrote Elsa Ray in online newspaper EU Observer. She is involved in a pan-European program to counter anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe. In June, a pregnant Muslim woman was attacked by two men in a Paris suburb, which resulted in rioting among local Muslim youth. Ray and her organization accuse French and European politicians of turning away from the problem and simply accepting anti-Muslim sentiments among the public. The debate about the French ban on full-face veils has only created more tension, according to Marwan Muhammad from the Collective Against Islamophobia in France.

No reliable statistics

The UK and France currently seem to be the hotspots of anti-Muslim attacks. However, there are no precise statistics covering the European Union, according to Katya Andrusz from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

"Far too few EU member states collect data about such offenses," Andrusz told DW. "The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has for a long time been calling on European governments to collect and publish such data."

Fiyaz Mughal (Photo: Fiyaz Mughal)

Mughal has observed a growing trend of online abuse

Only six of the EU's 28 states keep a record of anti-Islamic incidents. Some put them in the same category as other "hate crimes" - including those against Jews, Christians, homosexuals and various minority groups.

"It's actually in the interest of the member states to know what incidents take place and against which groups, so that the problem can be dealt with," said Andrusz, but added that the awareness of this problem is gradually increasing. Nevertheless, at this stage she could not issue any specific statements on the situation of offenders, victims and incidents in EU countries.

In Germany there is no specific category for anti-Muslim attacks and, as such, they are not reported to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. Not long ago, Wilfried Albishausen, deputy chairperson of the Association of Germany's Criminal Investigators (BDK), called for the creation of such a register. It would be based on the way records of attacks on Jews are kept, Albishausen told Germany's "Die Welt" newspaper. According to Germany's latest Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution, hostility towards Islam has been increasingly apparent on the far-right scene in the past few years.

Growing conflict, silent victims

Fiyaz Mughal of Tell Mama says that right-wingers no longer spread anti-Jewish hate messages but rather anti-Islamic. He says that this switch has been particularly evident on the Internet. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany there are political parties that warn of "creeping Islamification" due to the high birth rates of Muslim immigrants. In Norway, mass-shooter Anders Breivik made numerous references to the perceived threat posed by Islam when justifying his killing spree on the island of Utoya and in Oslo in 2011.

An anti-Islam protest in Germany (Photo: Revierfoto/ Roy Gilbert dpa/lnw)

Anti-Muslim sentiments are evident in various European countries

Not all victims report the offences committed against them. Tell Mama estimates that 60 percent do not contact the police or any aid organizations. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights confirms these observations. "The great majority of the Muslims surveyed did not report anything," said Andrusz. "This is a problem because what the authorities don't know is also not reflected in statistics."

"Stand your ground," appeals the anonymous Muslim woman in the Tell Mama video. "If you don't do it, then the next generation will suffer and it will continue. It happened to me as a child, and because I don't want it to happen to my children I'm doing this for them."

When an incident is reported, whether online or in real life, Tell Mama hands over the information to the police. According to Mughal, while the British police are effective in investigating violent attacks, the number of prosecutions in the online world is very low.

"Most of it is done symbolically because of big public-interest cases," said Mughal. "That's wrong, because the common man and woman in the street need to have results - rather than the very famous footballer who gets abuse on Twitter."

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