The perception of a Muslim threat in Europe is partly informed by conspiracy theories, Source: Depositphotos

Muslims in the West: Tracing a conspiracy theory

Muslims in the West: Tracing a conspiracy theory

The Eurabia narrative shows how a myth can have real-life consequences

Social media and some politicians in Europe have been building a moral panic regarding Muslims for years, presenting them as a threat from the East that seeks to conquer the West. Great hysteria often occurs when members of the latter community are reported as doing morally objectionable actions or illegal inactivities, so the sense of crisis rapidly spreads among the public.

By portraying Muslims as "enemies from the back door", the narrative has created crisis mentalities among some Europeans. Such portrayals, for example, have suggested that refugees and immigrants spread various diseases, that their asylum claims are false, and that they enter the countries of Western Europe as disguised terrorists.

That issue was once again brought to light recently due to another, and arguably larger and more intense refugee wave - that of Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country. In comparison, the overall mood and tone of that crisis have been that of understanding, acceptance and sympathy, sharply contrasting with the 2015 refugee crisis, for example.

Much of the negativism surrounding Muslim immigrants can be linked to a particular conspiracy theory suggestively called Eurabia – or the fear of Muslims replacing the native population.

The Myth of Eurabia

That theory finds its origins in the 1970s with Gisèle Littman, an Egyptian-born Jewish woman who fled Cairo for Britain after the Suez crisis. In a series of books, she developed a grand conspiracy theory in which the European Community, led by French elites, was implementing a secret plan to sell out Europe to the Muslims in exchange for oil.

According to Eirikur Bergmann, in his book Europe: Continent of Conspiracies, the theory also served to name Renaud Camus’s book from 2011 titled Le Grand Remplacement (‘The Great Replacement’). As Bergmann points out, Camus argued that European civilization and identity were at risk of being subsumed by mass migration. This notion of replacement, or white genocide, has been echoed throughout the rhetoric of many anti-migrant, populist far-right movements in the West.

Massacre in Oslo

As such, more than living as a fringe intellectual hypothesis, the concept of Eurabia has had serious consequences in real life. In July 2011, Oslo was hit by a terrorist attack, which caused many deaths. The sole perpetrator detonated a bomb killing eight people, and then subsequently shot dead 69 others, many of them teenagers, at a youth camp run by Norway’s Labour Party.

According to The Guardian, when the first news of the horror appeared, a small group of online commentators reacted by blaming Muslims for the crime with comments like: “This was inevitable,” and “Only a matter of time before other European nations get a taste of their multicultural tolerance that they’ve been cooking for decades.”

But soon, the truth turned out to be completely different. The massacre in Oslo had not been committed by Muslims, but was the work of a white supremacist, Anders Behring Breivik, and one of the early commentators that blamed Muslims for the crime, under the alias of Fjordman, was one of the reasons why the crime happened in the first place. How?

Fjordman, whose real name is Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen, had written various entries in a blog called The Gates of Vienna. The website is s a far-right blog that supports the Eurabia theory and is a central player in the counter-jihad movement within the United States and across Europe. According to The Guardian, Breivik referred to something he called "the Vienna school of thought" that inspired him to commit mass murder.

Among his intellectual influences, the attacker named Gisele Littman, the mother of Eurabia theory and the said Fjordman.

Fight against Islamophobia

In 2010, The number of Muslims in European countries was estimated at 44 million, or 6% of the total EU population, meaning by all counts they represent a minority. As such, having a freely circulating conspiracy theory, such as Eurabia, sits uncomfortably with that community’s chances for integration and with the creation of a pluralist democratic society in the EU.

Even though many Muslims acknowledge that they themselves need to do more to engage with wider society, overcome the obstacles and difficulties that they face and take greater responsibility for integration, the media can also play a focal role in enhancing mutual understanding between communities of different religions and beliefs, cultures and traditions.

Very recently, on 10 March 2023, the UN observed the first-ever International Day to combat Islamophobia. The President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, stated:

All of us carry a responsibility to challenge Islamophobia or any similar phenomenon, to call out injustice and condemn discrimination based on religion or belief – or the lack of them”.

He also added that education is key to learning why these phobias exist, and it can be “transformative” in changing how people understand each other.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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