Towards a path without hate

Fekete (2011: 40) argues that after 11 September 2001, new frames of reference that essentialise Islam and demonise Muslims have been created. These frameworks have spread intensively, especially since the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the consolidation of new social network platforms linked to Web 2.0 that contribute to the dissemination of hate speech, which in this context connects with the work developed to spread conspiracy theories about the Islamisation of Europe. We have seen how diverse discourses and metaphors about the different facets of the invasion of Islam connect to present a clear vision of the ideology that unfolds.

Likewise, although many metaphors are contextual, there is a certain degree of globalisation in the contents of these disseminated discourses. It can be easily verified in social networks such as Twitter by tracking hashtags, and through checking how they share textual, visual and similar discourses in different countries (#StopIslam, # Stop Invasion, #IslamIsTheProblem and so forth). This globalisation also reflects the existence of an international community that increasingly shares an ideology regarding the Islamisation theory or the globally shared idea of‘white genocide’.

Metaphors frequently illustrate a coherence between visual and textual elements that nourish each other, reinforcing the bias or orientation of the discourses, as well as their impact. Metaphors reflect ideologies and help to shape collective imaginaries and social representations about some groups. Among the functions of metaphors, when used for manipulative purposes, is that we accept the ideas that are represented figuratively, but in a hidden way. Some conspiracy theories, especially harmful for some groups, use metaphors to express their distorted vision of reality, to transmit stereotypes or similar purposes. Some of the metaphors we have shown symbolically condense a great deal of meaning in a small space, which endows them with strong expressive potential. Metaphors become, in a certain sense, vehicles for the construction of hate speech and fears along with other linguistic and visual resources. The argument of different kinds of threats under the purported invasion of Islam is a source of existential anxiety for citizens, and helps to build the imagination of the future decline of Europe as a consequence of internal and external enemies.

The identification of and fight against hate speech becomes a priority because of the potential influence it may have to incite violence or affect social cohesion. Following the Breivik terrorist attack in Oslo and Utoya, the idea that Europe is secretly Islamised gained support in many countries, driven, in particular, by far-right and populist political currents (Uenal, 2016). Knowing, for example, that Breivik was motivated by the belief in a Muslim conspiracy to conquer Europe would be sufficient reason to propose actions aimed to reduce the risk of disseminating conspiracy theories that provoke hatred (Fekete, 2011: 30).

Today, various frameworks intend to provide answers to the complex challenges of the twenty-first century connected to hate speech. Although research on the area of big data is a relatively new field, novel approaches are presented with strong transdisciplinary potential and focused on the automatic detection and analysis of hate speech based on automatic learning strategies and the processing of natural language. These strategies are not exclusively used in relation to Islam (MacAvaney et al., 2019; Burnap & Williams, 2016: Ross et al., 2017; Schmidt & Wiegand, 2017; Shu et al., 2017; Kaati, 2016). Through these approaches, capable of handling a large amount of data, it is possible to identify communication patterns and trends about Islamophobia as much as toxic conspiracy theories on Europe, which may allow deepening other types of actions.

In terms of legislation, the European Union (EU), as well as other areas (states), is trying to legislate this social phenomenon, with interest in disinformation, fake news and hate speech. There are also actions and agreements to try to involve key players such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., aimed at creating ethical codes and forcing the rapid elimination of hate speech. Some authors have denounced the lack of current effectiveness of some platforms (Awan, 2016) or the difficulties to achieve success. Though, some advances were also reported (Avaaz, 2019).

Other open fronts are led by various organisations and citizens, through the emergence and development of social movements, NGOs and groups such as those mentioned above, that want to counteract and stop Islamophobia and sensitise the population about it (NoHateSpeechMovement, anti-Islamophobia movement or the international movement ‘I am Here’, https://iamhereinterna-tional.com/). A report in the United Kingdom recommends that the government and Parliament take the issue of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime seriously by strengthening dialogue with representatives of the Muslim community. Public education is another relevant strategy. It comprises measures aimed at reducing the denigration and stigmatisation of Islam and Muslims, as well as policies towards other collectives historically equally discriminated against (Lambert & Githens-Mazer, 2010).

In other sectors, such as journalism, strategies such as fact-checking - with instruments or fact-checkers such as PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Maldito bulo, etc. - and a focus on data journalism is also making inspiring contributions. On the other hand, the delimitation between what is a hate crime and what is not, as well as where freedom of the press and freedom of expression should start and end, still raises many doubts in the legal field. There are also some areas of work here left to explore, particularly now that social networks have made anonymous publication so prevalent.

As we have shown, there are many open fronts, and there are also unknown questions to answer. Among these questions is that of how to approach the rapid pace at which diverse conspiracy theories on the Islamisation of Europe or false news (and connected issues) are disseminated through the Internet and predominantly spread hate. This poses decisive challenges to the European authorities. In terms of communication, there are challenges of a similar nature - for instance, fighting against disinformation - such as those connected to the recent development of other conspiracy theories related to COVID-19. The persistent use of invasion metaphors does not go unnoticed by citizens. It has contributed decisively to framing the way Europe is understood, as illustrated by recent trends for far-right parties receiving votes in favour of anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and antirefugee policies. It also connects to a higher presence of neofascism in European democracies today (Garcia, 2018).

Finally, though the European Commission has recently developed some policies to counteract hate speech, the decisive effects of such policies are yet to be seen. This might be because these policies are not enough to stop the influence of coordinated strategies of certain actors to launch and maintain conspiracy theories against minority groups over time. As we have seen in connection with COVID-19, political measures have not been able to prevent the dissemination of other conspiracy theories. Their importance is key today as we were reminded by Dr Tedros Adhanom, WHO Director-General, who declared: ‘But we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous’ (Adhanom, 2020).

There are plenty of signs leading the EU to become more aware of the damage that hate speech is causing as it spreads across different parts of European society, damaging its values and institutions and consolidating hatred towards some specific minorities. A critical and systematic evaluation of the policies developed to date is necessary, reflecting on whether they are efficient and needed to combat the (strategically planned) multiplication of hate speech and polarisation of public opinion in the current situation. We believe that it will be necessary to design better strategies that are especially adapted to address the current situation, which has undergone profound changes in a short space of time. Let us hope that the coming years will see advances towards trustworthy knowledge in this area that will contribute to a more fluid and less polarised coexistence.

 
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