There’s more. At the trial of Norway killer Anders Behring Breivik, the cold and loveless perpetrator whose anti-Muslim worldview led him to mow down 77 compatriots in July 2011, a handful of nationalist extremists testifying in his defense echoed his ideological claims that Norway was “at war” with Islam and that they knew of potentially 100 individuals who supported the bloody conclusion he reached.
In Europe, Western secularism and the Islamic faith exist in close daily proximity. In 1990, approximately 30 million Muslims lived on the continent. Twenty years later, in 2010, they numbered 44 million. In France, Muslims comprise 10 percent of the population and according to Pew Research polling, Muslims will account for nearly 8 percent of Europe’s mainland populace by 2030.
Mosques, minarets, halal food shops, and other symbols of this growing faith group have sparked angst amongst a population grappling with economic instability and political insecurity. An increasingly vocal and powerful group on the far right has exploited such anxieties by fastening anti-Muslim hysteria to a right-wing political culture that is inherently wary of anything foreign. They are the Islamophobia industry, a shadowy global network of bloggers, pundits, politicians, and religious leaders who make racism and rank bigotry a professional enterprise; and they have institutionalized hate in Europe and beyond.
Stop the Islamization of Europe (SIOE) is one example of how the Islamophobia industry functions. Founded in 2007, the Denmark-based group has a goal of “preventing Islam from becoming a dominant political force in Europe” and to that end, its supporters have provoked violent outbursts against Muslims throughout Britain and eleven other countries where local chapters exist. Driven by their motto, which states that, “Islamophobia is the height of common sense,” they have called for the total boycott of Muslim-majority countries and any business that sells them products. Their anti-mosque rallies, which involve swarms of angry, sign-carrying activists shouting “Muslims out!” has given truth to the saying that “hate attracts hate.” One SIOE protest even drew the participation of a known Nazi group who took to the streets in concert with anti-Muslim agitators and raised a banner with a swastika. It is little wonder, then, that the European Union refers to SIOE as “neo-Nazis.”
The thrust of much of the group’s animosity comes from members of the English Defence League (EDL), a far right, street movement that emerged in the U.K. in 2009. The EDL claims to be a peaceful resistance movement against “militant Islam,” but its members (usually white, thirty-something men with shaved heads and tattoos) frequently shout derogatory statements at Muslims, storm local businesses, and throw glass bottles and other objects at police. In 2011, nearly 200 EDL members were arrested after repeatedly threatening Occupy protesters with violence. In July, one of the group’s members was sentenced to three months in prison for breaking the jaw of a Muslim man.
When the anti-Muslim Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, was on trial for “hate speech,” the EDL came out in full force, using its newly formed offshoot group, the Dutch Defence League (DDL) to protest the judicial proceedings. The DDL is archetypal of how the Islamophobia industry spawns spin-off groups that share common membership and goals. The strength of this growing network is their interconnectedness and ability to export their prejudice.
SIOA also has strong ties to the EDL and other agents of the European right. Geller, for example, has blatantly stated that, "I share the EDL's goals ... We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamization of the West.” In July of 2011, SIOA, SIOE, and the EDL were scheduled to hold a rally in Strasbourg, France opposing the building of mosques and minarets in Europe. French and EU authorities cancelled the event, sending the Islamophobia industry into a tantrum decrying the violation of their “free speech.” The cancellation was prescient. Twenty days after the scheduled event, Spencer, Geller, the EDL, and Geert Wilders were mentioned repeatedly in the 1,500-page manifesto that Norway killer Anders Breivik emailed to his contact list before his killing spree.
The consequences of increased Islamophobia are severe. The growing anger of the far right in Europe, and in the United States, over the simple presence of different religious faiths will eventually produce some end point — some conclusion that these populations feel they must reach to relieve themselves of their mental anguish and “correct” what they see as problematic. Sadly, this fevered rhetoric and escalating ire commonly spill into violence. The global network of anti-Muslim fanatics who incite fear of Islam, this “Islamophobia industry”, must be excluded from rational public discourses about religion and society, and drowned out by sensible voices that oppose prejudice and discrimination.