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The Refugee Crisis and Islamophobia

In the face of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since WWII, many right wing and centrist politicians are using Islamophobia as a way to leverage policy-making in the West, to the detriment of human rights. The refugee crisis is just that –not an attempt by Muslims to ‘take over’ or ‘take down’ the West, but a crisis of people –of all religious and ethnic backgrounds– to flee from terror. At the same time, it reflects a crisis within Europe, which fights with itself how to define Europe in terms of openness and closeness to refugees knocking at the doors of Europe.

The Refugee Crisis and Islamophobia
Supporters of the far right extremist Noua Dreapta (The New Right), protesting, on October 3, 2015 against the immigrant quotas imposed by the EU and the ordinance that assigns land for a mosque to the Muslim community of Bucharest. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL MIH
 

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: ÖVP (People’s Party) wants Christians, SPÖ (Social Democrats) wants everybody, FPÖ (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

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