dimanche 23 août 2009

Rising Islamophobia blamed for hate crimes against Turks in Europe


The death of Turkish citizen Mikail Tekin in a Belgian prison has led to tension in Belgium and Turkey. Many Belgians protested the incident.

The violent deaths of two Turkish citizens in Belgium and three others in the Netherlands earlier this month have stirred up controversy among the Turkish public, which feels that anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim hate crimes have started to take a toll on their countrymen in Europe.

Arzu Erbaş Çakmakçı, 33, was stabbed to death on Aug. 11 in Amsterdam by an unknown assailant outside the daycare center she owned. Although the motive for her murder remains a mystery, it is suspected that it could have been a xenophobic attack. In the same city, another Turkish citizen, 30-year-old Ufuk Kayakuşu, who owned a cleaning company, was found stabbed to death in his home on Aug. 14.
The death of a Turkish citizen, Mikail Tekin, 31, in Belgium's Jamioulx Prison on Aug. 8, apparently after being subjected to torture as indicated in his autopsy report, sparked outcry among the Turkish public, prompting a diplomatic protest by Ankara to Belgian officials. Tekin had originally been detained after a brawl with traffic police.

In another Belgian city, Gent, Turkish citizen Mustafa Çiçek, 32, was shot to death in his home after returning from a vacation with his wife in Turkey. The couple was attacked by two masked man.

These crimes are still being investigated by the authorities to determine whether they qualify as hate crimes; the verdict is still pending. Though some of them may be ordinary crimes, the back-to-back heartbreaking news has caused public outrage and put pressure on Turkish officials to act on it.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the Çakmakçı family personally to offer his condolences and said he would discuss the matter with his Dutch counterpart in response to the grieving father's plea to have the perpetrators punished. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu placed a call to his Belgian counterpart, Yves Leterme, saying he expects the utmost care in the investigation of Tekin's death.
Recep Karagöz, the deputy secretary-general of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) sees an increasing trend of xenophobic and hate crimes across Europe. “The anti-Muslim rhetoric taken up by government officials in some countries has fueled these incidents, and they are the ones who should take the blame for them,” he told Sunday's Zaman.

Karagöz explained that most hate crimes in Europe have nothing to do with ethnicity, but rather these crimes target Muslims. “If you look at Germany, the bulk of Muslims are Turks, so it was natural for them to carry a bull's eye on their backs. When you cross the border over to France, the target will be immigrants from North Africa. Though the ethnicity changes, they share the common trait of being Muslim,” he noted.

Bülent Aras, a professor of international relations from the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) agrees with Karagöz in that Turks are considered Muslims and vice versa. “I remember the alley where Tunisian immigrants live in Paris was called the Turkish neighborhood,” he told Sunday's Zaman. “This is plain and simple Islamophobia,” he underlined.

Stressing that Europe had failed spectacularly in the integration of immigrant communities, Aras argued that unlike the United States, Europe has real issues with multi-ethnicity and officials are having difficulties finding a compromise under increasing domestic pressure.
“When you add the toll of the recent global economic crisis on national economies, you will end up with more hate crimes in these countries,” he said, explaining that immigrants groups are often blamed for rising unemployment and cracking the social security safety net.

Çakmakçı's murder was a case in point, and it looks very much like a hate crime against Muslims. She was a successful headscarved businesswoman in Amsterdam and was running the Moeders Schoot childcare center, which 350 children attended, in the Geuzenveld district of the city. Her father was quick to pinpoint spreading racism and xenophobia in the Netherlands as the motive for her stabbing.

Human rights advocate Karagöz says he has difficulty understanding how hate crimes can spread like cancer in a country which champions human rights and advocates the promotion of those rights in the international arena. “I guess the Dutch authorities have now realized that they also have xenophobic problems in their own backyards,” he said.

The rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims is becoming a concern for many international human right groups as well. The US-based Human Rights First (HRF), which closely monitors hate crimes and discrimination, underlines that attacks on Muslims and those who are perceived as Muslims are sharply increasing. In recent reports, the HRF pointed out that governments are not doing enough to address the problem and in some cases use anti-Muslim rhetoric to capitalize on the overall climate of fear and misunderstanding of Muslims and Islam.

Amid increasing violence against Muslims in Europe, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has decided to open a representative office and appoint an ambassador to Brussels to fight against Islamophobia in Europe more effectively. “This office will provide the West and Islam with the opportunity to work coherently,” said Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, the Turkish secretary-general of the organization, to Sunday's Zaman in June.

The office will cooperate with the European Parliament and the European Council to develop initiatives for interfaith and intercultural dialogue and institute contacts with nongovernmental organizations. The office will also be effective in efforts aimed at preventing discrimination against Muslims and fighting anti-Islamic propaganda. “Of course fighting anti-Islamic propaganda is one of the main aims of the office. Intercultural and interfaith dialogue constitute the priorities of the office in Brussels,” İhsanoğlu said.

The positions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who have both been particularly vocal in their opposition to Turkey's accession to the European Union, does not help either. Although Merkel and Sarkozy refrained from making anti-Muslim remarks, far-right parties in other member countries have aggressively campaigned against the predominantly Muslim country's membership aspirations as part of a broader agenda against the “Islamization” of Europe.

For example, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a far-right political party that is the third largest group in the country's Parliament, used opposition to Turkey's eventual EU membership as a major tool during its European Parliament election campaign back in June. The FPÖ's campaign materials were heavily loaded with religious discourse.

23 August 2009, Sunday

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