Such news has long been commonplace in our world. Whichever news agency, newspaper or television channel your employer may be, they immediately catch your attention among a pile of stories that world news people bring to your morning meetings. Yes, I am referring to racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and far-right behavior and actions toward minorities in Europe, which have been spreading like a plague.
Just three things that happened over the past week in Europe notably demonstrated what kind of hysteria the old continent suffers from today. The first incident involved Amir, an 11-year-old Afghan child who had sought refuge in Greece. He was attending junior high school in a country neither he nor the rest of his family was familiar with. At his school, a student was randomly picked to carry the Greek flag on Oct. 28, a national day observed in remembrance of the defeat of fascism.
Although Amir had indeed been chosen as flag-bearer, the school administration made the shocking decision to ban Amir from doing so. The reason, administrators said, was that Amir was a Muslim. Instead, Amir was asked to carry a sign with the name of his class.
The school administration’s ridiculous decision was followed by racist attacks against the family, whose house was stoned by unknown assailants. The second remarkable incident took place in Denmark. Danish Immigration, Integration and Housing Minister Inger Støjberg attended a meeting on refugees where she was protested by individuals trying to communicate the difficulties they faced to a senior government official. Unhappy with the reaction, she abruptly left the event and ran over a refugee with her car, who was trying to stop her from leaving.
The images were haunting. You would think that running over a Danish citizen with a car in Denmark would be the subject of a judicial investigation. In this particular case, however, no legal action was taken against the minister because the incident involved a refugee and not a Danish citizen. The third and final incident happened in the Belgian city of Gent, which is home to a large Muslim community. Local Muslims had recently decided to build a mosque where they could perform religious rituals.
Once construction started, Filip Dewinter, accompanied by members of the right wing, Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang party, took action to stop it. The group arrived at the construction site to protest the work by screaming that they did not want a mosque, foreigners or Islam. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of a Muslim in Belgium and imagine what they must be going through.
These incidents all took place in Europe over the past week – in Denmark, Greece and Belgium. We know about the individual cases because the media reported them. And how about everything else that didn’t make the headlines? At this time European leaders must carefully think about what is happening on the continent and reflect on their actions. The European Union officially has a serious problem and that problem is racism, which directly affects the lives of Europe’s minorities. European leaders, who miss no opportunity to talk about the rights of minorities elsewhere, cannot afford to ignore critical problems faced by minorities in their societies. The great tragedy that befell Europe during World War II must serve as a warning to all European leaders today.