Comment: Slovak politicians have publicly stated the bill is intended to outlaw all aspects of Muslim life in the country, forever, writes CJ Werleman.
Slovakia, Islamophobia, Muslims, Europe, right-wing, Islam
The ongoing and increasing effort to criminalise Islam throughout Europe, a continent that prides itself on being a bastion of liberal and pluralistic values, operates under many guises and covert methods, all of which have a singular purpose: To make life as difficult for Muslims as lawfully possible.
European parliaments are legalising Islamophobia at breakneck speeds, with European citizens becoming increasingly fixated on what Muslims can and cannot wear in public.
Consider that France became the first to ban the Islamic face veil in 2011, but since then only six of the 28 EU countries haven't considered banning headscarves and face veils, those six being Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Romania.
Countries that have passed general national laws that criminalise wearing the face veil include France, Belgium, Bulgaria, and Austria, while Denmark and Spain have enacted bans in specific public settings or sectors, according to a recent report by Open Society Foundation.
All of this is taking place as far-right political parties and movements spread throughout Europe at rate alarmingly similar to the Nazi military in the late 1930s to early 1940s.
Moreover, some European states are going even further than France, Belgium, Denmark and others in their respective efforts to stifle and repress the rights of Muslim minorities and expression of the Islamic faith.
Slovakia, for instance, recently passed a law that effectively outlaws Islam for the foreseeable future and/or forever.
Given Muslims represent only 0.4 percent of the population, Slovakia's anti-Islam law represents a solution to a problem that doesn't exist
The bill changed a pre-existing law that stated a religion must attain 20,000 followers (signatures) before it can be considered a state religion.
Without that legal status, a religion is deemed unlawful by the state, deeming it ineligible for government tax subsidies, while, at the same time, forbidding public houses of worship. The new law, however, doubled the threshold from 25,000 to 50,000 signatures.
Given Muslims represent only 0.4 percent of the population, Slovakia's anti-Islam law represents a solution to a problem that doesn't exist, but Slovak politicians haven't tried to conceal their motive behind this bill. In fact, they have publicly stated it's intended to outlaw all aspects of Muslim life in the country forever.
"Islamisation starts with a kebab and it's already under way in Bratislava, let's realise what we will face in five to 10 years," said Slovak National Party (SNP) chairman Andrej Danko in an interview with Reuters. "We must do everything we can so that no mosque is built in the future."
As it stands, there are roughly 5,000 Muslims in Slovakia, but not a single mosque. This law restricts the day-to-day life of Slovak Muslims in very harmful and repressive ways. Not only are they denied basic rights regarding freedom of speech and expression, but also they can't have religious leaders, perform Islamic marriages, nor can they receive funding or assistance from the government, unlike the members of 18 other registered religions in the country.
"As Muslims, we do really need to be recognised and to have a feeling that we are well accepted and well integrated by the government, by the society. We as Muslims, we are citizens. We have, beside our duties, also some rights," said Mohamad Safwan Hasna, chairman of Islamic Foundation Slovakia, in a recent interview with TRT World.
Moreover, failing to recognise Islam as a religion means schools are not allowed to teach their students about the religious faith and/or the contributions Muslims have made towards technology, medicine, philosophy and the natural sciences, which also denies students being knowledgeable about the historical presence of Muslims in Slovakia.
"There is no mention of the contribution of Arabic travel books to the reconstruction of the history of Central and Eastern Europe in the early middle Ages," observes Jozef Lenc and Monika Zavis, Slovakian authors of a recent report into Islamophobia in Slovakia.
"In Slovakia, we do not even teach anything about the Muslim communities of early Hungary (for example, around Nitra) or the contributions of the Tatars, who settled in the territory of today's Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, to the Polish army and society."
This climate of anti-Muslim animus is urging Slovak politicians to expand the 2017 bill by more than quadrupling the number of signatures required to attain status as a legal religion
This, according to Lenc and Zavis, is creating the intellectual space for Islamophobia to thrive and proliferate, which also creates space for political entrepreneurs, particularly on the right, to exploit and mobilise a political base.
For instance, a prominent Member of Parliament, Stanislav Mizik, recently stated, "Every normal European, Christian or atheist, has to fear this satanic-paedophile creation of the devil, which is the religion of Islam."
Of course, like everywhere else, seemingly, Slovak media also helps perpetuate negative stereotypes about Muslims and disinformation about Islam, and in particular has further fueled ill feeling towards the country's tiny Muslim minority.
Read more: Love, politics and patriarchy: British Muslim women are taking back their narrative
"Most often Islam is associated with terrorism - in fact all Slovak media use the word 'jihad' as a synonym for 'terrorism,' and 'jihadists' as a synonym for 'terrorists.' This creates a societal image that all Muslims who act as jihadists are terrorists, and that terrorism in the form of jihad is a part of Islam," observe Lenc and Zavis.
This climate of anti-Muslim animus is urging Slovak politicians to expand the 2017 bill by more than quadrupling the number of signatures required to attain status as a legal religion, but even more concerning is the fact that hate crimes against Muslims in Slovakia are on the rise, like pretty much everywhere else across the continent.
They are creating the intellectual space for Islamophobia to thrive and proliferate
At the heart of these European anti-Muslim laws is the fear of terrorism, with right-wing politicians foolishly and dangerously espousing the misguided notion that being tough on Muslims will defeat "Islamic" terrorism, despite the fact that counterterrorism academics and practitioners contend the exact opposite - that social cohesion, pluralism, equality and inclusion are the enemies of violent extremism.
Slovakia, unfortunately, is yet another example of a modern European state falling victim to the worse impulses and imaginary of fears of a more virulent and threatening far-right.
CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.
Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.
The New Arab
Slovakia's deplorable move to criminalise Islam
In Syria, Russia using peace to prepare for war
Barack Obama, 'lackey' of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
Abusing state power to quash Palestinian activism on campus
America must end its weapons deliveries to Saudi Arabia
Could UNRWA closure actually benefit Palestinian refugees?
Ahmed Abu Artema
Ending UNRWA aid does not end the right of return
Palestinians protest the US decision to cut funding to the UNRWA, Gaza [Getty]
Date of publication: 21 September, 2018
Share this page:
Comment: The most sacred of Palestinian rights does not gain its standing from the whims of a US president, but from international law, writes Ahmed Abu Artema
Palestine, right of return, refugees, Gaza, Israel, US, Trump, UNRWA
The Trump administration has decided, in an entirely expected move, to stop all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This decision will also include a new legal formula that mandates that refugee status is not passed on from parents to children.
What this means is that the number of Palestinians considered "refugees" will fall from some five million - according to UNRWA's estimates - to only 750,000, those actually forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948. Of those, only 30,000 remain alive.
Trump's consecutive decisions regarding the Palestinian cause prove that he lives by the principles of domination, looking at people's rights as impediments that can easily be superseded by a signature.
This was pointed out in the Washington Post: "The White House is seeking to take the right of return off the table, as Trump has said he eliminated the future of the contested city of Jerusalem from negotiations last last year when he recognized it as the capital of Israel."
The right of return is the most sacred right for the Palestinian people. It enjoys consensus among Palestinians from all walks of life. Now 70 years after their forced displacement, refugees still keep the keys to their former homes and documents that prove ownership of property - and they pass these precious items down to their children and grandchildren.
Not only do recent US decisions regarding UNRWA institute an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people, they are also an assault on the international community
On March 30, 2018, 200,000 people from all walks of Palestinian life in Gaza marched to the fence that separates them from their homes as part of the Great Return March.
They demanded their Right of Return under international law, specifically UN Resolution 194, which states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so".
Not only do recent US decisions regarding UNRWA institute an attack on the rights of the Palestinian people, they are also an assault on the international community, which, under UNGA Resolution 302, established UNRWA as an agency dedicated to the service of Palestinian refugees until a just peace is achieved.
When it comes to the definition of the term "refugee", the only party authorised to do so is the United Nations General Assembly, which created UNRWA for the purpose of providing assistance to Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict". It continues: "The descendants of Palestine Refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration."
The UNRWA website adds: "When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestinian refugees are eligible for UNRWA services."
Principally, the US claim that descendants of refugees are not refugees speaks from a morally flawed logic, as it gives a legal standing for persecution and ethnic cleansing anywhere in the world whenever there is a power imbalance. The logic of the US administration permits for aggression by any state against a people, occupation of their land and permanent expulsion. Once they die, their right to the land dies with them - the occupiers gain a legal foothold on lands that they took by force.
Additionally, this logic ignores the reality that the question of Palestine is of a national character. Those Palestinians who were evacuated from their homes by Israeli gangs in 1948 are not just individuals, represent a national identity, once subjected to ethnic cleansing.
Today, the Palestinian people are still very much alive. Five million Palestinians live in devastated refugee camps and await an end to this historic justice. The passage of 70 years, or even 100, is not sufficient time to give credibility to injustice. Nor can crimes be erased by the passing of time.
Targeting UNRWA is something Israel has attempted for decades, especially as the agency has served as a witness to the Nakba of the Palestinian people in 1948. Its presence is a continued reminder of the disaster of refugees. For this reason, Israel expressed wholehearted support for the Trump administration's position.
Targeting the agency at this particular time will contribute to further instability and increased tensions in the region
Binyamin Netanyahu recently stated: "[The US] is finally starting to solve the problem," which reaffirms Israel's view that peace comes only when the Palestinians are washed away.
Defunding UNRWA will only worsen the humanitarian situation for Palestinian refugees, given that the agency has been working in areas already suffering from the ravages of poverty, blockade and unemployment.
Some 54 percent of UNRWA's budget is allocated to education, 18 percent to healthcare, and 10 percent to relief programmes. Now, in light of the Palestinian Authority's financial crisis and the tightened Gaza blockade, UNRWA has become the last resort when it comes to relief for refugees in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Targeting the agency at this particular time will contribute to further instability and increased tensions in the region - and push students, employees and the poor into even greater levels of suffering.
With its outright hostility against the most sacred of Palestinian rights, the US administration earns only hatred and animosity in the region. Also, by adopting the position of an extreme right-wing Israeli government, the US is killing any hope for a just mediation between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Right of Return does not gain its standing from the whims or decisions of the leader of a single state. Its standing is based on the collective will of the international community. And as long as the Right of Return dwells in the hearts of millions of refugees, no one on earth will take it away from them.
Ahmed Abu Artema is a journalist and Palestinian peace activist. He was born in Rafah, in 1984 and is a refugee from Al Ramla village. He authored the book "Organized Chaos" and numerous articles. He is one of the original organisers of the Great Return March.
Follow him on Twitter: @aburtema
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.
The New Arab
Ending UNRWA aid doesn't end the right of return
We use our own cookies and third-party cookies to measure traffic to our website and analyse browsers' behaviour, with a view to improving the services we offer
yes, I accept
We use our own cookies and third-party cookies to measure traffic to our website and analys