The necessary art of saying no to hatred


Even in a world of uncertainties, some things are certain.

We know the year ahead is going to be a roller coaster ride. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected, knowing that opinion polls and experts will once again get it wrong in forecasting election results in The Netherlands, France and Germany.
And across the world, there will be even more venom, racism and hate directed at refugees, migrants and minorities. Unfortunately, America and Europe will be in the lead.

US President-elect Donald Trump and Europe’s Far Right populists have already made Muslim-baiting their favourite sport. Their anti-Muslim rants have unsurprisingly triggered a surge in real-life hate crimes and online hate speech against Muslims, migrants and refugees.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US which monitors hate crimes, more than 1,750 unique anti-Muslim photos and memes were distributed during the month following Trump’s election. Some of the anti-

Muslim content was directed at foreign leaders like Angela Merkel and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, while others “were clearly an attempt to demonise Islam and Muslims”.

It’s going to get worse. With Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and FraukePetry of the Alternative for Deutschland seeking even more headlines and voters in upcoming polls in France, the Netherlands and Germany, there will be no let-up in anti-Muslim hate-mongering in Europe.

Anti-Semitic attacks and tweets and have also been on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League says that during the US presidential election, from Aug 1, 2015 through July 31, 2016, there were over 2.6 million tweets “containing language frequently found in anti-Semitic speech”. Additionally, at least 800 journalists received anti-Semitic tweets.

Migrants and refugees in Europe are getting their share of the poison. The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency warns that “the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants in large numbers …since 2015 combined with reactions to (foiled) terrorist attacks in a number of EU Member States has contributed to the more open manifestation of racism, xenophobia and intolerance in public discourse”.

Social media has, of course, made hate crime and incitement to hatred that much easier. As the EU’s human rights watchdog warns, “statements posted online can go viral almost instantly, making it difficult to challenge them and to remove them completely”.

It’s time to start practicing the necessary art of say no to spreading hate.

It won’t be easy. In the blink of a Twitter feed we have become used to a post-truth world of lying politicians. Truth, courtesy and facts are out. Lies, insults and dishonesty are in. Bullying and hate-mongering is the “new normal”.

But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Encouragingly many organisations and individuals are taking up the challenge. Three high-level conferences in January will look at ways of tackling different facets of the “hate game”.

The EU, Canada, America and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are joining hands to organise a high level forum at the United Nations in New York on combating anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred on Jan 17.

Following on from a similar meeting on anti-Semitism held last year, the UN forum will look at government policies to combat anti-Muslim hate, stress the importance of coalition building and seek out new narratives to promote pluralism and inclusion.

On Jan 25, the Maltese government, which has the current presidency of the EU, and the European Commission under the Euromed Migration programme will seek to change negative perceptions of migration through an evidence-based, forward-looking and balanced narrative.

And a day later, the European External Action Service and the UN Alliance of Civilisations will look at how migrant voices and experiences are framed in the migration debate. The focus will be on improving the quality of media coverage of migrants, promoting ethical journalism, building partnerships between media and civil society and preventing hate speech on the Internet.

Significantly, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Microsoft signed the European Code of Conduct in May to prevent the spread of illegal hate speech. They must be held to their promise.

And “ordinary folk” are becoming more aware of the need to take action. Take Oxford University physics professor Joshua Silver whose complaint against British Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s speech urging companies to stop employing foreign workers has been officially recorded as a hate incident by the police.

As Professor Silver has illustrated, turning a deaf ear or ignoring hate-mongers is not enough. It’s time for action.

That means ensuring that governments enforce their laws against discrimination and racism, political actors are taken to task for peddling xenophobia and hate and media starts to question the racists, stop misinformation and give a voice to minorities under pressure.

Civil society has a key role to play by building inter-faith and inter-ethnic coalitions to combat discrimination of all kinds and helping to create positive narratives of societies built on pluralism, diversity and inclusion.

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