Worrying trends on the EARS dashboard: Growing Islamophobia in 2023
Islamophobia is on the rise across Europe. Learn how the EARS dashboard can help us to both understand and stand up to this growing problem.
Islamophobia in Europe has been on the rise for many years. As has been analysed by the Belgium-based Collective for Countering Islam in Europe (CCIE), this rise is closely linked to the surge in far-right nationalism. As part of this rise, Muslims have faced increased discrimination and acts of intimidation.
The EARS dashboard is a tool which allows those interested in religion and society in Europe to read summaries of articles on these topics from across the continent. By using the EARS dashboard, we can look at news stories from across Europe on the topic of Islamophobia and identify developments on this issue throughout 2023.
What is Islamophobia?
Although Islamophobia has become a widely used term, it is important to define its meaning. For the EARS dashboard, by looking at the ‘Glossary’ tab, we can see that Islamophobia is defined as an ‘unreasonable dislike or fear of, and prejudice against, Muslims or Islam.’ It is important, therefore, to recognise that articles tagged with the topic of Islamophobia are focused on actions, developments, or policies that could be considered Islamophobic. This, therefore, does not include all articles relating to Islam or Muslims, many of which may be positive in nature.
Islamophobia during 2023
To begin our investigation of how the dashboard has covered the topic of Islamophobia this year, we must start by narrowing our search by using the ‘custom range’ option on the Timeframe filter. When we select January 1st until 14th December 2023, and add the topic Islamophobia, we see that 212 summaries of news articles appear.
Now that we have isolated these summaries, we can use other tools to get a clearer idea of the development of the topic over the year. By clicking on the ‘Timeline’ tab, we can get a sense of the commonality of summaries discussing Islamophobia over the year.
As shown in the graph, Islamophobia has had a constant presence among dashboard summaries. While in May 2023 the topic was tagged in just 4% of all EARS summaries, there were also peaks in January, July, November, and December, where over 10% of all summaries on the dashboard were tagged with the keyword.
In addition, we can use the ‘Countries’ tab to get a sense of where there has been the highest concentration of summaries relating to Islamophobia.
Clearly, two countries stand out, with 77 of the 212 summaries relating to Sweden, and a further 48 relating to France. However, we can also see that summaries on the topic of Islamophobia have been present across the continent in 2022, with entries relating to the vast majority of European countries.
Sweden: high tension due to Quran burnings
By narrowing our search to only summaries about Sweden, we can begin to look in more detail at why the country has been regularly featured with the topic Islamophobia. Looking at our ‘Word Cloud’ tab gives us a clearer idea.
The word cloud, with various mentions of the Quran and of ‘burning’, points to the reason for Sweden’s regular inclusion. On 21 January 2023, Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish far-right activist, burned the Quran in a protest close to the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. This sparked protests across the Islamic world and led to a diplomatic row between Turkey and Sweden. The word cloud picks up these topics, with words such as NATO and Turkey included, as well as the name of Paludan. The ongoing debate over the legality and morality of the burning of the Quran has meant that summaries relating to this issue have been covered by media outlets from across Europe throughout 2023, as well as articles published by EARS. In addition, EARS has reviewed how the Swedish Quran burnings were covered by the dashboard in this article.
France: culture wars, political plays and discrimination
While summaries relating to Islamophobia in Sweden therefore had a particular focus on one recurring debate about Quran burnings, in France, the second most-tagged country on the topic of Islamophobia (48 summaries in 2023), there has been greater variety.
Over the year, there has been a large variety of different articles relating to Islamophobia in France. These include Islamophobic comments made by author Michel Houellebecq and condemnation from teacher’s unions of “targeting” of Muslim students by the authorities.  The topic also was a focus for foreign media, with reports in the UK of Islamophobia faced by British fashion designer Salma Masrour and the Spanish far-right making Islamophobic comments relating to riots in French cities in June. 
However, as alluded to in the word cloud, one particular issue relating to Islamophobia in Europe captured attention across Europe. Numerous words, such as schools, ban and abaya(s) relate to the September 2023 decision from France’s top administrative court to ban the wearing of the abaya, a type of Islamic dress worn by women and girls. This decision attracted significant international attention, and was the subject of a number of summaries in the dashboard.
A selection of summaries from September 2023 including the word ‘abaya’
In addition, in the word cloud on Islamophobia in France, we see Gabriel Attal, the French Minister of Education, responsible for introducing the ban, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president. In this way, the word cloud can help us to understand both the most covered issues as well as the most commonly named individuals involved.
More issues than solutions
As 2023 draws to a close, the dashboard demonstrates that the issue of Islamophobia is a continuing and perhaps growing problem. In particular, the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on both antisemitic and Islamophobic narratives is a feature.  On top of this, the recent election win of the far-right and openly Islamophobic PVV party of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands has been covered in numerous summaries. 
What is evident is that Islamophobia is an issue that is present across Europe and there are often similarities in the ways in which it manifests itself. This means that for those wishing to understand and challenge the rise of this form of hate, it is of great importance to be aware of what is happening elsewhere in the continent. The EARS dashboard therefore serves as a valuable tool in helping to create greater awareness and solidarity in combatting all forms of hate and division.
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