Western and Central Europe

In western and central Europe there has been a rise in the number and size of explicitly anti-Muslim parties, as populist radical-right parties have risen…

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Chapter : Western and Central Europe

In western and central Europe there has been a rise in the number and size of explicitly anti-Muslim parties, as populist radical-right parties have risen and elevated anti-Muslim prejudice to the forefront of their political agendas.

As such, 2017 was important for measuring just how far anti-Muslim politics have become mainstream, with a number of key elections where anti-Muslim parties and candidates were expected to do very well.

While not the seismic sea-change predicted, 2017 witnessed significant inroads made by far-right and anti-Muslim parties in several countries. Marine Le Pen of the Front National failed to win the French presidency but achieved second place with the support of a third of voters.

The Islamophobic politician, Geert Wilders, of the PVV, achieved second place in the Dutch General Election with 13% of the vote.

The Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), meanwhile, has formed a coalition with the anti-immigrant, far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and, in Germany, Angela Merkel – seen by many as the embodiment of European centrist politics – held onto her post, but with the Islamophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party coming in third with 94 seats.



United Kingdom







United Kingdom

In Britain there has not been a mirroring of the American mainstreaming that has seen counter-jihad activists being brought into the mainstream. Most prominent British counter-jihadists have been ostracised by politicians and the media.

However, there has still been a creeping process of normalisation of anti-Muslim rhetoric, with some mainstream media outlets and politicians adopting positions not dissimilar to those promoted by counter-jihadists.

As with much of the rest of Europe, the 2015 migrant crisis and the wave of terrorist attacks on the continent contributed to wider anti-Muslim prejudice in the UK. However, in 2016 the nation also experienced a referendum on its membership of the European Union. While there were legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate, there was often a toxic atmosphere when it came to discussions about immigration, much of which was centred on Muslim refugees.

The Conservative politician Michael Gove suggested that a migrant influx equivalent to the population of Scotland could arrive if Britain voted to Remain. In addition, he and now Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson focused on the issue of possible Turkish migration, with little likelihood that Turkey would be able to join the EU in any near future (even less likely now, following crackdowns against opposition by Turkish President Erdogan).

Leave campaign posters disingenuously stated: ‘Turkey (population 76 million) Is Joining the EU’. Some in the Leave camp also claimed that these possible future migrants were a threat to national security because of supposed higher levels of criminality among Turkish people.

HOPE not hate’s 2017 Fear and HOPE report charted attitudes towards race, faith, immigration and belonging in England, surveying over 4000 people with 140 questions. The report highlighted how the result of the Brexit vote, the recent terrorist attacks on Manchester and London and the rhetoric surrounding these events all hardened Islamophobic attitudes among certain segments of the population.

39% of people overestimated the proportion of Muslims in the British population and just 10% of the public felt that Muslims were similar to themselves (a view prevalent even among those most confident about multiculturalism). 42% of English people say their suspicion of Muslims has increased following the recent terror attacks. Meanwhile, a quarter of the English believe that Islam is ‘a dangerous religion that incites violence’.

An earlier 2016 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised rising ‘racist violence and hate speech’ by both the press and politicians in the wake of the Brexit vote. ECRI bureau member Christian Ahlund said: ‘It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we

see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians.’

The ECRI criticised former UKIP leader Nigel Farage for claiming there was ‘public concern about immigration partly because people believe there are some Muslims who want to

form a fifth column and kill us.’ UKIP has often been a key part of this process of mainstreaming of anti-Muslim ideas, with a raft of leading UKIP figures echoing counter-jihadist rhetoric.

Writing in the Midweek Sport about the migrant crisis Paul Nuttall, also a former UKIP leader, articulated views indistinguishable from those made by counter-jihadists. In essence, he bemoaned a Muslim invasion that would take over Europe and, as counter-jihadists do, argued that ‘we are encouraging this influx through our bleeding liberal hearts.’

Gerard Batten, current UKIP leader and MEP, has even called for ‘an ideological crusade to convert European Muslims to Christianity’ and has described Islam on multiple occasions as a ‘death cult’.

These are just a few examples of the dozens available of prominent UKIP members articulating positions akin to those of counter-jihadists. But UKIP members are not the only ones spouting these views.

A string of academic studies have documented how the British media has engaged in fear-mongering over the past decade. Headlines, often in right-wing tabloids, have perpetuated Islamophobic narratives with claims such as the ‘BBC put Muslims before you!’, ‘Muslims tell British: Go to Hell!’, and ‘Muslim schools ban our culture’.

Outright fabrication with retractions published days later are also common. In 2015, for example, the Daily Express published an article claiming that half of Britain’s 3 million Muslims supported the Islamic State, and The Sun ran a headline that read, ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis’ on its front page. In both cases, the newspapers involved were eventually forced to retract their claims because of their deeply dubious basis. In April 2018, the new editor of the Daily Express told British MPs that much of the reporting of Muslims in the newspaper had been “downright offensive” and “appeared in the past [to] have created an Islamophobic sentiment, which I find uncomfortable”.

A report by the University of Cardiff School of Journalism shows that between 2000 and 2008, when Brits saw a story about a Muslim on their newspaper’s front page, they were most likely to see the adjectives ‘radical’, ‘fanatical’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘extremist’ or ‘militant’ next to it.

In late 2011, researchers at the University of Leeds conducted a three-month analysis of four mainstream British papers, The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Mail and The Sun. They found that 70% of articles about Muslims were ‘hostile’ in nature.

Broad generalisations of Muslims in the media are more widely accepted than ever before. Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer wrote in 2015 that the Paris attacks had proven Enoch Powell – a politician made infamous for his ‘rivers of blood’ speech fifty years ago that criticised immigration – right. Powell was sacked from his role as Shadow Defence Secretary for his blistering speech around race but his words remained an influence and his beliefs have worryingly appeared to have gained a mainstream following (a theme HOPE not hate has recently examined in depth).

Moreover, in addition to politicians and the media, public figures from elsewhere have buoyed such discussion. The Archbishop of Canterbury implied in March 2018 in his book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, that British and Islamic law were incompatible, adding that high levels of immigration from Muslim countries could ‘have an impact on the accepted pattern for choosing a partner’.


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France was the first country in Europe to ban Islamic face veils such as the burka and niqab back in April 2011. The issue is a very complex one, centred on debates around France’s staunch history of secularism versus freedom of religion. The face veil ban hit the headlines again in 2016 when the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, banned the burkini (a swimsuit that covers everything except the hands, feet and face), calling it ‘the uniform of extremist Islamism’. While in keeping with France’s secularism, the result shocked many, with pictures emerging of Muslim women being forced by armed police to undress on the beach.

The Front National’s Marine Le Pen has long taken a hard line on Muslims and Islam with much of her rhetoric making only the smallest distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism. However, France has been hit by a number of tragic terrorist attacks in recent years, perpetrated by Islamist extremists, and the result has been that many of Le Pen’s views have been echoed by politicians from the main parties.

Le Pen has called for expulsion of ‘foreigners who preach hatred on our soil’ and to strip dual-nationality Muslims with extremist views of citizenship. Her ideas were endorsed by both the former PM Manuel Valls and former President Francois Hollande. Similarly, Francois Fillon, another former PM, has described radical Islam as a ‘totalitarianism like the Nazis’. Of course, denouncing radical Islam is perfectly acceptable and necessary but he added that Jews, Catholics and Protestants ‘don’t denounce the values of the Republic’ thereby suggesting that Muslims do.

In the end, Le Pen came second in the 2017 Presidential election with 33.94%. While not a victory the result was extremely worrying nonetheless, and shows how electorally powerful Islamophobia is in France.


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For many liberal progressives Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel have been a beacon of hope due to the nation’s humane and sympathetic refugee policy. However, Merkel’s position has by no means been universally popular and a spate of sexual assaults and terrorist attacks have made many question this policy.

While Merkel has generally held firm, the last few years has seen the growth of a more organised anti-Muslim movement in Germany. The most prominent is the Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the Occident, or ‘Pegida’) which was formed in October 2014 in Dresden, Saxony.

Pegida’s targets are Muslims, refugees, the media and mainstream politicians, not least of whom being Merkel. Among those addressing its rallies have been the populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, the German New Right publisher Götz Kubitschek, the Turkish extremist author Akif Pirincci and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson, former leader of the anti-Muslim street movement, the English Defence League).

Until April 2015, when it had begun to falter, Pegida marched almost every Monday evening in Dresden. Starting with 300 people, the demonstrations grew to a peak of 25,000 in January 2015.

However, while the 2015 migrant crisis breathed some life back into the movement – its two-year anniversary demonstration in October 2016 attracted between 5,000 and 8,500 people – the movement has already passed its peak. Pegida’s initial successes in Dresden spawned copycat groups around Germany and the rest of Europe, all of which have generally been unsuccessful. That said, the Pegida name has become internationally known and the movement has supplanted the Defence League as the go-to counter-jihad street protest brand.

Part of the group’s troubles are the result of competition from the more politically adept and influential right-wing populist party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The party was founded in 2013 by Konrad Adam, Bernd Lucke and Alexander Gauland (Lucke would quit in July 2015 claiming that it had become increasingly xenophobic). The AfD’s growth in recent years has been fast. In the 2013 federal elections it won 4.7% of the vote and by 2014 this had climbed to 7.1% and a gain of seven seats in the European elections. By the end of 2016 it had gained representation in 10 of the 16 German state parliaments.

In 2016 the AfD adopted an explicitly anti-Muslim policy calling for the banning of the face veil, the call to prayer and minarets. It was reported that at the conference in Stuttgart in April a delegate who called for dialogue with Muslims was booed, and the slogan ‘Islam is not a part of Germany’ was used. It seems that the growth of the AfD has resulted in the centre ground shifting right on the issue of Islam and Muslims. In December 2016 Chancellor Merkel said that wearing the full face veil should be prohibited in Germany. At least half of Germany’s 16 states have since banned teachers from wearing headscarves and in Hesse civil servants are included.

At the German elections in late 2017, the AfD became the third largest party with 12.6% of the vote and sent candidates to the national parliament.


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Dutch right wing politcian and leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders talks at a press conference June 14 2009 in the Danish Parliament building in Copenhagen before attending a conference in the same building. The Danish ‘Society of Free Printing’ has invited Geet wilders to speak at the conference entitled ‘Freedom of Speech and Islam’. AFP PHOTO/SCANPIX DENMARK/Jens Nørgaard Larsen

The Netherlands is home to perhaps the most prominent and successful anti-Muslim politician in Europe, Geert Wilders.

His prominence in Dutch politics has secured his position as the main standard bearer across Europe of the counter-jihad network, and he is feted by its campaigning organisations in North America. Wilders’ extreme views are very controversial and have caused widespread offence. He has called Islam the ‘ideology of a retarded culture’ and compared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, labelling it the ‘fascist Qur’an’. Despite claiming to be a champion of free speech he has called for the Qur’an to be banned. In addition, he has called for the rewriting of the Dutch constitution to provide for all immigration from Muslim countries to be halted, for paid repatriation of Muslim immigrants, and all Muslim ‘criminals’ to be stripped of Dutch citizenship and deported to ‘back where they came from’.

In 2008 Wilders commissioned the making of the controversial film Fitna that explored Qur’anic-inspired acts of terrorism. The film angered Muslims worldwide and triggered an international debate on free speech. In the spring of 2009 he launched the ‘Facing Jihad World Tour’, a series of screenings of Fitna to public officials and influential organisations around the world, including the United States Senate. As part of the tour he had planned to show the film in the Palace of Westminster but two days before the showing the-then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, banned Wilders from entering the UK, labelling him an ‘undesirable person’.

In July 2010, Wilders announced his plans to start an international/pan-European anti-Muslim movement called the International Freedom Alliance. It would initially cover France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Upon its conception it received support from René Stadtkewitz (former Chairman of the Freedom party) and the Politically Incorrect (PI) blog and network. Wilders’ goal was to establish an international alliance to end all immigration from Muslim countries to the West and a complete ban on Sharia law. Wilders has extensive links with other leading counter-jihad activists around the world and attended the U.S. Republican Convention in Cleveland in 2016. In December of that year he was found guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans but was cleared of inciting hatred. The courts imposed no fine or sentence, stating that the criminal conviction was sufficient punishment.

In 2017, the Netherlands went to the polls with Wilders expected to do well. While he himself didn’t win, his Party for Freedom (PVV) did worryingly well, coming second with 13.1% of the vote and receiving 20 seats. This was a clear example of how anti-Muslim politics has become more mainstream and acceptable in the Netherlands.


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In 2016 it was made illegal to wear a face veil in public in the Tessin region following a referendum on the issue back in 2013. Switzerland banned the building of minarets after a 2009 referendum was approved by 57.5% of participating voters. The referendum was in part the result of campaigning by the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party, which won the biggest share of the vote in the 2015 national parliamentary elections.


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In 2016, Austria came uncomfortably close to electing a far-right head of state when Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party received 46% of the vote. Though his loss to Van der Bellen of the Green party was celebrated by many as proof of Austria ‘rejecting’ the far right, the fact that a leader such as Hofer could receive such a large proportion of the vote was a deeply worrying sign.

Hofer has called for a ban on Muslim women wearing the face veil and during his campaign he promised to build a fence on Austria’s southern border to ‘stop the invasions of Muslims’, leading to some dubbing him the ‘Austrian Donald Trump’. Previously he has said that ‘Islam is not part of our values’.

Then, in October 2017, Austria’s legislative elections were won by the far-right Austrian People’s Party when they received 62 of the 183 available seats. The party’s leader Sebastian Kurz called for stronger borders, more limits on immigration and opposition to political Islam.

During the election campaign Islam and Muslims were generally a hot topic with the Freedom Party producing posters calling for an end to ‘Islamisation’.


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