Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Refugee Crisis and Islamophobia

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The Refugee Crisis and Islamophobia

Article excerpt

Christians Preferred

In 2013, long before the current refugee crisis erupted in Europe, Austrian vice-chancellor, foreign minister and leader of the Christian-Democratic People's Party, Michael Spindelegger, announced that he would welcome 500 refugees from Syria--but would "prefer women, children, and Christians." (1) The leader of Austria's Red Cross ironically raised the question: "Do Christians suffer more from poison gas?" (2) While the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) also criticized Spindelegger for his statement, the latter only reaffirmed his position. His party colleague, minister of interior affairs Johanna Mikl-Leitner, defended Spindelegger by stating that, "some people try to neglect that Christians are especially in danger." (3) Many journalists rationalized Spindelegger's statement by referring to his affiliation as a knight of the Equestrian Order

of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic Order which dates back to the First Crusade and is today a Lay organization of the Vatican. Its declared aim is the "support the Christian presence in the Holy Land." (4) According to Spindelegger, Christians were more persecuted in Syria than people with other religious affiliations. Support which is given preferentially to Christians, however, denies the general human suffering, which affects all people caught in the civil war, no matter what their religious affiliation may be. An Austrian right-wing webpage put it bluntly in this exaggerated title: "Syria-Refugees: OVP (People's Party) wants Christians, SPO (Social Democrats) wants everybody, FPO (far right Freedom Party) wants nobody." (5) This short episode preceded the current refugee crisis, occurring during the civil war in Syria and before the strong emergence of the terrorist organization DAESH (ISIL), which later led to a much greater wave of emigration. Spindelegger's sentiments can be seen as something of a foretaste of the reactions of some European countries to the masses of refugees who attempted to enter Europe during summer 2015.

The Biggest Refugee Crisis since WWII

By 6 September 2015, the UNHCR counted more than 4 million Syrians affected by the refugee crisis. This number includes 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey and 2.1 million people registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon combined. (6) According to the UNHCR, 38 European countries recorded 264,000 asylum applications, (7) while the number or refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan has increased. During the summer of 2015, the situation worsened significantly. Since the Second World War, says The Economist, Europe has not "faced refugee flows of such complexity and scale." (8) Nevertheless, one has to ask: How can some politicians in the Global North and representatives of the wealthiest countries in the world start to discriminate against refugees on the bases of religion against the backdrop of--compared with Turkey--such a low number of refugees accepted into Europe and during one the greatest refugee crises in the post-World War II-era? Europe, the continent, whose most successful peace project, the EU, is built on the legacy of WWII.

Islamophobia in the West

Islamophobia, particularly in its link to nationalism, has precedents in the West. Indeed, even anti-Semitism as the main element of nationalist thought in Nazi Germany has not completely faded away. In the 1980s and 1990s, racist attacks against refugees and foreigners intensified. In the late 1990s and by 9/11, Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism spread out across Europe. Since that time, Islamophobic discourse has achieved a hegemonic position in the Western hemisphere. For many years now, politicians, especially on the far right, have made use of Islamophobia in their election campaigns; these include the Front National in France, the Freedom Party in Austria, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, etc. Moreover, especially within the last 15 years, many centrist parties have either adopted parts of these discourses or have implemented laws which reflect Islamophobic discourse. …

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